Obituary: JoAnne Woodyard Boyle / Transformed Seton Hill during 26 years as president

Oct. 27, 1935 - Nov. 1, 2013


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During JoAnne Woodyard Boyle's 26 years as president, Seton Hill University was transformed, growing from a small, women's undergraduate college to a co-educational university recognized for its broader scope, high academic standards and central role in the revitalization of Greensburg.

Ms. Boyle, whose energy, vision and leadership as Seton Hill's longest serving president, from 1987 until her retirement in June, was instrumental in making all that happen. She died Friday from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig disease. She was 78.

Michelle Ridge, chairwoman of the university's board of trustees for the last 12 years and a friend of Ms. Boyle, said she was indefatigable in her "lifelong professional devotion to the university." She was also a big Pittsburgh Pirates baseball fan.

"She was a woman of great substance, style and wit, a visionary who was courageous in her leadership, but who also possessed great compassion and humility," Ms. Ridge said. "She was always looking forward to the next challenge."

The university said in June it was renaming its teaching awards the JoAnne Woodyard Boyle Excellence in Teaching Awards, to recognize her passion for learning and a deep care and concern for students. And in October it announced that its new health center will be named the JoAnne Woodyard Boyle Health Sciences Center.

Karl Eisaman, a former mayor of Greensburg, said Ms. Boyle's death is a loss not only for the university but also the city of Greensburg, where she lived and was well known and well liked.

"She had a vision for the future and truly believed in partnership," Mr. Eisaman said. "She wanted success for the university and the community where it is located and pursued projects that would magnify and help out everybody."

He said examples of that include the $21 million Performing Arts Center that increased the university's presence in Greensburg's downtown and the addition of professional programs such as the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, a highly ranked physician assistant program and the Center for Orthodontics.

"In growing Seton Hill University she was also helping to grow the town," he said. "It was a pleasure and an honor to work with her."

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Ms. Boyle grew up in Charleston, W.Va. She received her undergraduate degree from Seton Hill, a master's degree in teaching from Harvard University and a doctoral degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

Considered a talented teacher, Ms. Boyle, who was a professor of English at Seton Hill and then chair of the English Department before becoming president, was a passionate advocate for a liberal arts education.

"I can't imagine what life would be like without grounding in the liberal arts," she wrote. "Without a foundation in the arts and sciences, people cannot be as effective in the world; they miss the frame of reference that helps them compare and think carefully about a subject. I think there is a hunger in us and a yearning for the knowing of where what we do and who we are fits into a larger picture and the study of the liberal arts provides that for us."

According to the university's announcement of her death, Ms. Boyle served as board chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, and the International Women's Forum of Pennsylvania.

She was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania and later served as president of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania. Ms. Boyle served on the boards of the Economic Growth Connection, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the University of Pittsburgh's Board of Trustees and its College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors, Westmoreland Museum of American Art and the Honor Board at WQED. She was a former board member of the Council for Independent Colleges and Universities, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, Steel Industry Heritage Corp., United Way of Westmoreland County and Westmoreland Regional Health System.

Ms. Boyle was a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Ligonier. She is survived by her husband of 55 years, Arthur Boyle Jr.; seven children, Arthur III of Ligonier; Terrence, Patrick, Morgan, and Elizabeth Boyle McDonald, all of Pittsburgh; John of Greensburg; and Teig of Hershey; and 13 grandchildren.

Visitation is scheduled from 4:30 to 7 p.m. today and from 2 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, in the parlors on the second floor of the Administration Building at Seton Hill University.

A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday in St. Joseph Chapel at Seton Hill. Private interment will follow at the Sisters of Charity Cemetery at Seton Hill. Pantalone Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Seton Hill University Reeves Library or to the JoAnne Woodyard Boyle Health Sciences Center at Seton Hill University. Memorials may be sent to Seton Hill University, Office of Institutional Advancement, One Seton Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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