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John Ellswood Boynton
June 3, 1938 (Duluth, MN) - June 27, 2018 (Silver City, NM)

 It is with sadness that his friends announce the passing of Dr. John Boynton — scientist, professor, friend.

John graduated from Tucson High school in 1956. He studied horticulture and plant breeding at the University of Arizona and was awarded his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California-Davis. He went on to conduct postdoctoral work at U.C.-Davis; the University of Copenhagen, Denmark; the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Plant Biology at Stanford. In 1968, he joined the faculty of Duke University where he remained until retiring in 2000. As a distinguished professor of botany and genetics, his research and his collaboration with other scientists brought advancements in specialized fields of plant genetics. The accolades bestowed upon him were numerous and impressive.

While in high school, John spent summers working at cattle ranches in the Eastern Sierra in Nevada and California. At the end of one summer he purchased his first car with money earned as a ranch hand and drove back to Tucson. It was the beginning of his passion for traveling in the west, and for western landscape. As a graduate student at U.C. Davis in the early 1960s, John visited Mono Lake, California, and formed a strong connection to the area. He began spending summers there, traveling from North Carolina each summer to stay in a small cabin, until he ultimately built a small “off grid” house. His connection was enduring. He was one of the original named plaintiffs in litigation brought to protect Mono Lake from water diversions for thirsty Southern California. His commitment to the environment was unwavering, and he actively collaborated with friends in a variety of regulatory proceedings aimed at protecting wet meadow habitats, streams, sustainable grazing, and waterfowl habitat. He was a tireless researcher and up until his death he provided invaluable scientific input to local community advocates on environmental issues.

Prior to retirement from Duke University, John purchased property and began planning his move from Durham, North Carolina, to Silver City. At retirement, he began construction of his new home in Wind Canyon, where he lived with his German Shepherd, Coco. He and Coco would spend their summers in Mono Lake, and then return to Silver City as the monsoon rains wound down.

John’s intellectual curiosity spurred a fascination with subjects far beyond his own field of expertise. He studied local area water issues as a result of unfortunate water well issues he experienced while building his house. He joined the Wind Canyon Volunteer Fire Department, and grew enthralled with techniques, equipment and funding. He wrote grants which helped to enable construction of a new station and to purchase equipment needed to run it. He was fascinated by politics, and he could spend hours on the telephone with his friends, asking for their opinions and defending his own positions.

John and his friend Gary Maxwell, who lived in the guest house on John’s property, built hoop houses on the property, and they together raised hot-house crops for sale at local farmers’ markets and at the local food co-op.

Every year at Christmas, John baked batches of his mother’s favorite cookies, and he would deliver them, along with planters of bulbs, to his friends. He would bring with him a folder, which had copies of articles and a list of topics to discuss, and then he would spend the morning drinking Earl Grey tea and engaging in always-interesting conversation. He was an exceptional photographer, a wonderful cook, a generous host, and a tremendously loyal friend.

John’s contributions to the fields of biology, botany and plant genetics have left their mark. His enduring commitment to help other young scientists is reflected in his funding of perpetual graduate fellowship endowments at the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and U.C. Davis, College of Agriculture and Environmental Science. His friendship and company among us will be deeply missed. Rest In Peace, John. Thank you for sharing your life with us, and for introducing your friends to each other so that you live on through all of us.


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