A 40-year career comes to a close
CBL’s Boynton lauded as ‘master communicator’
Bay scientist Walter Boynton retired last week after working as an estuarine ecologist for decades at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.
Noting he’s a collaborator, Boynton thanked his family, friends and colleagues in the audience gathered next to CBL’s visitor center Friday afternoon to celebrate his 40 years of career.
“I’ve had this incredible opportunity to have and live a fascinating life at CBL,” Boynton said in a short speech. “I think it’s incredibly accurate when I say I have done almost literally nothing by myself.”
With a Massachusetts accent, Boynton recounted that he first came to Maryland as “a pretty young guy from Boston moving into what my dad called the Deep South,” drawing laughs from the audience.
Boynton said there were fun times during his time at the laboratory, but he would not characterize his existence there as merely fun.
“Trying to figure out how nature works is an awesome challenge,” Boynton said. “So many of my days here were spent scratching my head. I’m surprised I have any hair at all,” drawing another wave of laughs from the attendees.
Boynton’s bay research and his ability to communicate science to different audiences effectively established him as one of the leading scientists in the region.
Being a faculty member at CBL since 1975, Boynton’s research on the decline of striped bass in the bay contributed to the adoption of a fishing moratorium, which helped the population to rebound, according to the university. He also worked on informing policy makers to monitor nutrients in the bay and take actions to reduce nutrient loads.
Over the span of more than 40 years, Boynton published more than 100 scientific papers and many more reports related to water quality, habitat and restoration.
In December, Boynton received one of the most prestigious awards in the field — the Mathias Medal.
Established in 1990, only six people have been awarded the medal, including Eugene Cronin, a pioneer in bay science who hired Boynton for his first job at the laboratory when Cronin was the lab’s director in late 1960s, according to the university.
“It was enormously fulfilling; it was incredibly challenging,” Boynton said, summarizing his career.
“The university, they hand you more than enough rope to hang yourself,” he said. “In other words, there’s this irreplaceable freedom to, in a sense, follow your nose, follow your instincts, follow the questions to see what you can find out.”
Boynton’s colleagues said he has spoken in front of Congress, the state’s legislature and other local boards, and he is known for his communication style.
“Walter has the unusual ability to translate science into simple language that you can understand and also a passion so you want to understand,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, calling Boynton a “master communicator.”
Laws and policies are informed by science, Swanson said. “He’s taken the science of the folks all around him and made science as a collective sum accessible, digestible and understandable to other people.”
Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland’s environmental science center, echoed Swanson’s point.
Boesch said he learned from Boynton’s colleagues about his ability to communicate well and one scientist said, “I envy Walter for having that ability to be able to have that humility and grace which makes him, first of all, so easy to work with and makes people listen.”
Janet Barnes, a program coordinator at CBL who worked with Boynton for years, said Boynton is the “best storyteller” who also
has a sense of humor and a laid-back attitude.
“Everybody loves him,” Barnes said. “He didn’t care if you have a Ph.D or not. He always included us in every step of the way.”
Calling Friday’s celebration a “bittersweet” moment, CBL’s director, Tom Miller, gave Boynton two gifts — a framed version of a Congressional record that Rep. Steny Hoyer (DMd., 5th) entered at the House of Representatives celebrating Boynton’s career and his contribution to the bay; and a notice that said a conference room has been named after him.