In Memoriam Donn DeBoard
16 January 1954 – 25 August 2020
By Danielle Villegas and Timothy Esposito
Editor’s note: On 25 August 2020, STC Fellow and longtime member Donn DeBoard passed away. He was 66. I was saddened, as so many were, by Donn’s passing, as he was an incredible STC colleague, friend, mentor, leader, and all-around sweet, fun person. I found these tributes to him so spot-on, fun, and even funny that I wanted to include them both and in the original first-person voices. I think Donn would be happy to be remembered so well.
From Danielle Villegas
Donn was one of the first people I became friends with in the STC. I had just finished attending my first STC-Philadelphia Mid-Atlantic Technical Communication Conference (now known as CONDUIT) back in 2013. I was very nervous about meeting new people at the post-conference social. When I arrived at the restaurant, however, I sat down next to a quiet, reserved, yet very friendly individual. He introduced himself as Donn DeBoard and started to put me at ease and pull me out of my shell. We chatted about our families—his daughter was just about to graduate from college, and he was rather proud of her accomplishments. He patiently listened t
o me tell him about how I had just restarted my career in technical communication and about raising my own son. That night, a friendship with Donn DeBoard was forged.
During my short friendship with Donn, I learned how passionate he was about technical communication—as much as I was. The trick was that he’d been doing it A LOT longer. I was among the proud attendees from Philadelphia who were able to see Donn receive his STC Fellow award. It was truly an honored moment for him! I had also gotten to know Donn for his work within our Philadelphia Metro Chapter (PMC) supporting the academic outreach program. During his tenure, he had built up incredible partnerships with local colleges and universities, but especially with Drexel, his alma mater, and was able to create a viable scholarship competition program for students. At the Society level, he was on the Nominating Committee, worked hard on the scholarship program, and presented at many local, regional, and international conferences. He was a force to be reckoned with!
The thing that I remember most about Donn was his joy and willingness to help out others in the field, which is probably why he gravitated toward students and new technical communicators. As I shared the news of his passing with others from STC-PMC who had worked with him, several said that he had helped them get a job in tech comm when they needed it most or that he was a fantastic mentor to them as they got started. He always jumped at the opportunity to serve as a mentor to many new professionals seeking guidance in this field. He was always curious, open to learning new things, and adapted with the times.
For me personally, he was a different kind of mentor. As I ascended the ranks of the chapter leadership, Donn was always available to lend an ear and give advice. His wisdom influenced many chapter leadership decisions. He was dedicated to protecting the chapter that he’d helped to build and maintain over the years. After dealing with some health issues, Donn came back after a sabbatical from the PMC council to help with rebuilding our chapter and ran for the role of Secretary/Treasurer. We were so happy to have him back in the fold as we kicked off our program year. Alas, he was unable to see the changes going forward with his passing.
Everyone I’ve spoken to since passing along the news of his death has said the same thing: Donn was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet—a truly kind, good person, soft-spoken, who was easily amused by the silliest jokes from those around him, and he contributed so much to the STC. He always wanted to help and support those around him, and he took every opportunity he could to do so. He was passionate about his activities with the STC, as it was a prominent part of him.
Even his obituary—https://www.maugergivnish.com/obituary/donn-deboard—prominently highlighted his activities and accomplishments with the STC. Donn was a member of the STC for almost 35 years, and his exuberance for the STC was with him right up until the end. The STC will certainly miss this bright light, but not more than those of us in his own Philadelphia Metro Chapter, who will miss him the most.
From Tim Esposito
When I heard of Donn’s sudden passing, I was shocked. After calling several chapter members who knew Donn and seeing that his obituary was published, I shared some memories and photos of Donn on Facebook. There was a flood of condolences from STC members around the world. Members from India to Australia to Canada and across the US commented, sharing their memories of Donn. The level of dedication Donn had toward STC did not go unnoticed by its members and his friends.
To me, Donn was the most wonderful and friendly person ever—always optimistic and helpful. When I was STC-PMC president for two years, Donn did an incredible job with our scholarship and mentoring program, especially with Drexel.
We attended several STC Summits together, and he was even my roommate at one. In 2016 I received the Associate Fellow award at Summit. During a break in the proceedings, I went to the restroom, where I was unable to extract some food from my teeth. In bursts Donn, proclaiming, “Tim, they are starting the Associate Fellow awards, and you’re up next!” The bathroom was some distance from the awards ceremony (maybe three miles?) and the two of us sprinted down the corridor in our dress clothes. Someone handed me my blazer as I ran past them, and I put it on as I ran onto the stage. Without his help, maybe I’d still be in that bathroom because I’m sure that piece of food is probably still in that tooth. And that’s the lame kind of jokes that I make which Donn would laugh out loud at.
Once, Donn, fellow STC-PMC member Jessica, and I booked our Summit flights together. We all got to the airport early in the morning for breakfast and sat together on the flight. The two of them fell asleep right away. Once we landed in Los Angeles, we took a shuttle to the hotel. We dropped our bags off and promptly walked across the street to Disneyland. The first thing we did was the Indiana Jones ride, which Donn approached with some trepidation, as he was afraid of motion sickness. I told him that he could handle it, and the three of us had a great time on the ride. He thanked me several times that day for encouraging him to go on the ride. So emboldened, he rode through the Haunted Mansion (turns out the car is a little tight for three adults) and Star Wars. Donn thought it was hysterical when we sang the Darth Vader theme to his name: “Donn, Donn, Donn, Donn DeBoard, Donn DeBoard …” We all had so much fun.
At his memorial services, Donn had his STC Fellow pin on his lapel. His wife was so proud of the work he had done in technical communication that a large portion of his obituary—three of the six paragraphs—was dedicated to his volunteerism with, and service to, STC. Although Donn has passed on, his gentle guidance has led many aspiring technical communicators on their career paths.