Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Spring 2007
A Love Story: Pat and Shirley Boone Pledge a Lasting Commitment to Supporting the Family
by Megan Huard
Pat Boone's professional journey will remain indelibly in the annals of music history: he sold 45 million records, released 130 albums and six No. 1 hits, ranked Top Single Artist of the Year six times, and more. He starred in 15 motion pictures, was the youngest entertainer to host his own television show, authored 15 books, and became an iconic figure in popular culture. Pat Boone is a household name.
But behind the entertainment, the white bucks, and effervescent smile, Pat is first and foremost a family man. That commitment underscores every decision he makes.
"Shirley and I have always felt from our wedding forward that our main responsibility to God is to try to be a good family," Pat says. "We see God and family as intertwined. My top responsibility before God has been to be a good father and a good husband."
That responsibility is deeply woven in the tale of Pat and Shirley Boone. It is a love story, which began for both as teenagers in the halls of Nashville's David Lipscomb High School. There, a young Pat Boone and Shirley Foley sparked a connection and shared a faith that have sustained them through 53 years of marriage. Together they have known the joys and heartaches of raising four daughters and both successes and failures in the entertainment industry.
In every happiness, sorrow, and adventure, their unwavering commitment to each other, their family, and God has endured. Reflective of their own experiences, in fall 2006 the couple invested in helping to promote strong families and healthy relationships among others by endowing the Pat and Shirley Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University. Because of their gift, this vital extension of the University's Christian mission has the means to continue its essential work for years to come.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Pat Boone, descendent of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone, moved with his family to the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee, at a young age. Throughout his early years, Pat proved himself a talented singer, dedicated student, and popular friend; he was elected student body president. Pat aspired to be a schoolteacher and preacher in Churches of Christ, and fell in love with his future wife, Shirley, while still in high school.
Daughter of the great country singer Red Foley, Shirley grew up facing the challenges of a life in entertainment. Her father traveled frequently, occasionally performing with his wife, but regularly leaving his three daughters at home. Shirley's mother developed a debilitating heart condition when her eldest daughter was only 10, and the structure of their family unit deteriorated. Her mother was hospitalized, and the girls sent away to boarding school.
These experiences weighed heavily on young Shirley's heart, and a sense of relief accompanied great joy when she fell in love with Pat. "Having been raised in this business, I wanted to be away from it because it took my dad away all the time. I thought, I'm marrying a schoolteacher, he'll be a congregational preacher, and we'll have a regular, ordered, quiet life."
Little did either Pat or Shirley anticipate the substantial and rapid alterations Pat's career would make to their plans. Within the first four years of marriage, the Boones catapulted from a life of anonymity and limited means to one of nationwide fame and surprising wealth—a life which suddenly included four daughters and bustling New York. Through the tumult, temptation, and distraction, Pat and Shirley held fast to their deep commitment to each other and to God.
Dr. Margaret Weber, dean of the Graduate
School of Education and Psychology, with the
Boones at the dedication of the Pat and
Shirley Boone Center for the Family on
May 1 in Malibu.
"I have always been impressed with the total dedication of their entire family to Christ," says Boone family friend and Pepperdine Chancellor Emeritus Charles Runnels. "They are Christians in all respects: involved in their church, freely giving of their support and service. With the same devotion, they are committed to their family."
At all times and in all ways, the Boones put their family first. Shirley forsook her own music career to remain home with their daughters: Cherry, Lindy, Debby, and Laury. When offered the opportunity to record duets with Pat, she agreed only if all work could be done after she had put her children to bed.
When Pat was home, he drove the girls to school, conducted Bible studies, led sing-alongs in the car ride to Sunday service, and worked to be a spiritual leader for his family. He even structured his career to accommodate his family: Pat organized the Boone Family Singers, comprised of Shirley and their daughters. The group performed and traveled together for seven years, a feat rarely seen in the music industry.
The Boones also nurtured a meaningful attachment to the value of Christian education. Though Pat attended North Texas State and graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University, he testifies that the "best educational experience I received was at small David Lipscomb High School and College in Nashville," an experience he shared with Shirley.
When the Boones moved to Los Angeles more than 40 years ago, they worshipped at the Inglewood Church of Christ and became familiar with Pepperdine, a sister school of Lipscomb, at its former campus in Los Angeles. Friends of Norvel Young before their move to California, the Boones soon befriended Charles Runnels and his wife, Amy Jo. Pat and Charles taught a Bible class together after Sunday lunch in the cafeteria, while their children became close friends.
Chancellor Emeritus Charles Runnels with
Shirley and Pat Boone
Pat was invited to join the Pepperdine Board of Advisors, and throughout the years, the Boones remained closely linked with the University. Shirley served on the exploratory committee which led to Pepperdine's move to Malibu, and Pat currently serves as chair of the University Board. They also encouraged family members to consider attending: "I've wanted all my grandkids to go to Pepperdine. I've even let their parents know I'd finance them all (if they could get in; Pepperdine's requirements are very high)." Of their 15 grandchildren, Ryan Corbin (SC '99) and Casey O'Neill (SC '08) both decided to attend.
It takes but a short time with the Boones to see how the Center for the Family fits so well with their priorities. Pat and Shirley recall that when they first learned about the center, they were struck by its usefulness and relevance in today's world. Pat admires the drive to bolster and teach the kind of family values that seem under attack in contemporary society. Shirley recognizes the practical worth of instruction and guidance that the center offers, and laments that no such support was available to her as a young wife and mother.
In fact, the idea of the Pat and Shirley Boone Center for the Family dates back to only 1993. The University was looking for a way to honor Norvel and Helen Young, and so created an endowed chair in family life at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP); psychology professor Dennis Lowe was appointed to the position.
The Youngs envisioned a center that would help establish Pepperdine as a university that cares about families and seeks to strengthen family life. Helen Young recalls their aspirations: "My husband Norvel and I chose to support Pepperdine's Center for the Family because we felt that the strengthening of families was a natural outgrowth of the University's Christian mission. There is a great sense of optimism as couples are helped, homes are strengthened, and churches develop programs to make good marriages great."
Pat Boone receives the
University's highest honor,
the Honorary Doctor of
Lowe incorporated the Youngs' vision into plans and proposals which he brought before then president David Davenport and then GSEP dean Nancy Magnusson. With a gift of three years funding, the Center for the Family was born.
Sara Jackson, the Youngs' daughter, came on board part-time to help the nascent center, which officially launched in February 1996. At the time, its primary mission was to energize family ministries within existing churches, seen as ideal settings to strengthen and support families and relationships. The center hosted guest speakers and conducted workshops at churches. Lowe and his wife, Emily Scott-Lowe, a licensed clinical social worker and relationship specialist, led parenting seminars, healthy marriage classes, and training programs designed to equip individuals with the tools to support their own community needs. Other programs included marriage mentoring, in which older established couples were matched with younger ones.
In its first summer the center conducted its inaugural family ministry conference on the Malibu campus. It also developed a robust Web site featuring resources and information for those interested nationwide. The center focused on the Pepperdine community as well. Lunchtime speakers and events catered to faculty and staff, and Convocation speakers shared lessons of family and relationships with students.
When its original funding expired, the center needed the means to support itself and consequently established an advisory board comprised of individuals passionate about the family and able to help support the center. Cochairs Tom and Sheila Bost were integral members of this board, which maintained the center through its transitional phase from start-up to self-sustaining.
Today, the original programs continue, while the center's reach and relevance for Pepperdine students and young adults grows. One of the center's most successful programs is what's known as the Relationship IQ Project. "The project deals with how to help increase the 'relationship IQ' of college students and young adults in all types of relationships—friends, roommates, families, and partners," Lowe describes.
President Benton applauds the Boones at
Savvy Chic III.
From presentations, to the Convocation series and regular newsletters, the project aims to instill in young adults the hope and skills for building healthy relationships, as well as models to emulate and a faithful foundation from which such relationships may grow. In classes and seminars, students gain such practical knowledge as how to resolve conflict, communicate effectively, and chart the often challenging waters of relationships. Take-home assignments put these strategies into action, and journaling brings the message home. Lowe describes: "Students come to me after an assignment and say, 'I tried that with my girlfriend, or my roommate, or my brother, and it worked! It really helped!' It's rewarding to see these students benefit."
Seaver College student and Relationship IQ Project participant Matt Dougherty praises the difference that these center programs make in student life. "The center has provided me with a lot of useful knowledge about relationships. I have learned about everything from romantic attraction to communication. I believe that everyone at Pepperdine should be able to or required to take a relationship-oriented class."
His peers concur, as the programs prove both successful and popular among students. The Healthy Relationship Series features a variety of classes, many of which fill up quickly. Students can enroll to learn about "Healthy Relationships: A Christian Perspective," "Important Conversations for the Seriously Dating or Engaged," "Sexuality in the Media," "How to Date Best," and "Beyond the Disney Effect: Breaking Down Romanticized Love." On the Web site, articles, including some written by students, explore cohabitation, long-distance relationships, picking a good partner, trust and communication, and sexuality. The site also directs readers to books and other resources to help them navigate the issues people face today.
Since its inception, the Center for the Family has thrived on purpose, passion, and people, but ultimately struggled under the weight of funding concerns. Time occupied with raising funds diverted attention from the real work of the center. Now, the generous endowment by the Boones has provided the opportunity to expand the center's footprint in ways that may have taken years, or simply may have never been achieved.
Dr. Margaret Weber, current dean of GSEP, describes her vision for the future: "The center will provide opportunities for policy development, research related to families, and outreach to become a national center for dissemination of information about families."
Pat and Shirley Boone pose with Helen Young
at the dedication ceremony.
To achieve these goals, the first priority is full-time staffing—something the center has never had before. Lowe and the advisory board also seek to further develop programs on campus. They intend to generate more curriculum and compile the center's current work and knowledge into a procedures manual or handbook, a "how to" guide for other universities. Also in planning stages is a program to better equip students to help their peers in informal ways. Students already serve special advisory roles with their friends; new programs would make students better informed and capable of giving the right advice. The center is reaching out to student organizations, like the children's literacy program Jumpstart, to help team members communicate effectively with each other.
In addition, with the help of the Boones' endowment the center seeks to expand its presence and profile nationally to include a national speakers series and conferences for young adults and relationship issues. Lowe hopes to encourage and facilitate the establishment of similar centers on the Boone Center model at schools around the country. There is also an interest in adding research components to mobilize efforts among current faculty to engage in projects together.
"This very generous endowment gift from Pat and Shirley Boone will significantly increase the center's ability to fulfill its mission and substantially boost the number of children, college students, couples, and parents who will be touched by the center's efforts," Lowe says. "Norvel and Helen Young's original vision was for Pepperdine University to be known as a place that cares about families and invests in their growth and development. These funds go a long way in providing the necessary resources to accomplish this dream."
That dream now includes the touch of Pat and Shirley Boone, their faith, love for family, and dedication to Pepperdine. Pat says: "I count my service at Pepperdine among the major milestones and privileges of my life."