Carolyn Boling, wife of the late Dr. Edward J. Boling, president of the University of Tennessee system from 1970 to 1988, died on Sunday. Mrs. Boling was 86.
The former Carolyn Pierce, Mrs. Boling was a native of Knoxville and received a bachelor’s degree in child development and family relationships from UT Knoxville in 1952. She and Ed Boling married on Aug. 8, 1950 and had been married for 65 years when the former UT president died in June 2015.
Boling’s 18 consecutive years as UT president – 1970-1988 – make up the longest recent term of service in the office. Before his appointment as president, Boling was UT vice president for development for nine years.
President Emeritus Joe Johnson said he met Mrs. Boling in 1960, when he went to work for Ed Boling, and from that time forward, she was “always there.”
“She was totally devoted to her family and to the University of Tennessee,” Johnson said. “Whether it was the Alumni Council, Development Council, the orange and white game, meetings, dinners, parties or commencements; whether celebrating a milestone or raising money—she was always there, greeting and welcoming and making people feel important to UT.”
Johnson said Mrs. Boling “always represented herself and the University in the kindest and most caring way.”
“She followed the great example of Martha Holt, wife of Dr. Andy Holt,” Johnson said. “Martha Holt brought them along, Carolyn and Pat, my wife, with a great devotion to the University and its well-being.
“Carolyn always was gracious, friendly, helpful, and helping create the right kind of image among friends, alumni and donors.”
Mrs. Boling continued supporting her husband’s involvement with the University as president emeritus after his 1988 retirement, Johnson said.
UT President Joe DiPietro said Mrs. Boling’s death is a reminder of “the profound debt of gratitude owed by every member of the UT family to the Boling family.”
“Carolyn Boling was the devoted wife of an exceptional man, and she was an
exceptional person in her own right,” DiPietro said. “She used her talents with the written word; with understanding, appreciating and relating to people; and in putting service above self to further enable the University to be all that it is today.
“As did her husband, Carolyn Boling embodied a dedication and devotion to her alma mater and to its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends that we should all strive to emulate.”
In addition to serving as Ed Boling’s vice president for development at UT, Charlie Brakebill was a close personal friend of the Bolings, since serving together in World War II with Ed Boling.
“We were friends for 72 years, 2 months and 12 days—until his death in 2015—and we were closer than brothers,” Brakebill said. “I got to know Carolyn after she came along and he fell in love with her.
“I remember as he came in on the heels of the larger-than-life Andy Holt, some had questions about whether a quieter person like Ed could replace someone like Dr. Holt. Of course, he was very successful and went on to serve as UT president for 18 years, and whatever Ed was involved in, Carolyn was with him, and she helped him from the beginning and in every possible way, especially in the very early days.”
Brakebill described Mrs. Boling as a brilliant, smart writer who was gifted artistically and creatively, and who genuinely enjoyed the frequent entertaining expected of a university president and his wife.
“They literally entertained all kinds of VIPs in their home: governors, and cabinet members both of governors and the White House; legislators; chief executive officers and chairmen of large corporations,” Brakebill said.
“Sometimes, after two full days of meetings or non-stop events, Carolyn still would invite us out to dessert at their house at 11 o’clock at night, and we’d go. She was always gracious, and her hospitality was genuine and endless.”
Mrs. Boling is survived by three sons, Mark, Brian and Stephen; and six grandchildren.
The family will receive visitors from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, April 23 at Rose Mortuary, 6200 Kingston Pike in Knoxville. Following the visitation period, a short service will begin at 3 p.m. Parking is available for guests.