This past week has been rough. One of my friends and tech comm mentors, Donn DeBoard, passed away. He was one of my biggest advocates, and I will sorely miss him.
I wrote a memorial announcement that’s going to be shared with our chapter, STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, which in turn will also be shared with the STC Intercom and STC Notebook publications. However, that version is an abridged version of what I originally wrote. Here’s the original. I’m going to miss you, Donn.
On August 25, 2020, STC Fellow and longtime member Donn DeBoard passed away. He was 66.
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 a little bit shy at that conference, not really knowing many people, even though I was connecting a few faces with people I had met online. But I really didn’t know how to insert myself into conversations going on there, and after the conference, I remember driving to the post-conference get-together at a local Japanese restaurant, crying my eyes out because of the anxiety of trying to integrate into this new group.
After I had calmed down, and joined the rest of the group for dinner, I ended up seated to a quiet, reserved, yet very friendly individual. He introduced himself, and started to put me at ease and pull me out of my shell. We chit-chatted about our families–his daughter was just about to graduate from college, and he was rather proud of her accomplishments. He patiently listened to me tell him about how I had just restarted my career in tech comm, and about raising my own son. That night, a friendship with Donn DeBoard was forged.
During my short friendship with Donn, I came to learn about how passionate he was about tech comm–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 a proud moment for him, for sure! I had also gotten to know Donn for his work within our Philadelphia Metro chapter 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. He was a force to be reckoned with!
The things that I remember most about Donn was his joy and willingness to help others out in the field–which is probably why he gravitated towards students and new technical communicators. As I shared the news of his passing with others from STC-PMC who had worked with him, several had said that he had helped them get a job in tech comm when they needed it most, or 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, always open to learning new things in this ever-changing field, and adapt with the times.
For me personally, he was a different kind of mentor. As I ascended the ranks of the chapter leadership, I would often bend his ear and ask for his advice based on his long-standing experience volunteering for the STC and the Philadelphia Metro Chapter, bouncing ideas off of him to get a reaction. He always supported my ideas–even if they seemed risky (and he didn’t have to agree!). He was a huge advocate when we moved CONDUIT to the Franklin Institute, and he regretted that he wasn’t able to attend due to health issues at the time. As the chapter made some big decisions more recently that affected how we operate the chapter going forward, I would have long conversations with him to figure out best solutions and scenarios to protect and continue the chapter. He was dedicated to protecting the chapter that he’d helped to build and maintain over the years. As he recovered and it seemed that the worst of his health issues were behind him, he came back after a sabbatical from the Philadelphia chapter council to help with our chapter rebuilding, and ran for the new role of Secretary/Treasurer this year. We were so happy to have him back in the fold as we just kicked off our program year. Alas, he was unable to see the changes going forward with his passing.
All those I’ve talked to since passing along the news of his death have said the same thing. Donn was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet–a truly kind, good, soft-spoken person, who was easily amused by the silliest jokes from those around him, and someone who contributed so much to the STC. He was always wanting to help and support those around him, and took every opportunity he could to do so. He was passionate about his activities with the STC, as it made up a prominent part of who he was. Even his obituary 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.
This is one of my favorite photos of Donn and me back in 2016.