Richard (Dick) Boland didn’t plan to become an adviser to cancer patients, a mentor to children, a
volunteer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, or perhaps most unexpected
of all – a cat lover.
Instead, Boland, 67, will tell you that the course of his life, like a winding
river, has been shaped by a series of happy accidents. Starting with his
childhood as an Army brat, Boland was raised in places as disparate as the
Panama Canal Zone and South Carolina, where he met the girl who would become
the love of his life. In adulthood, grief over her loss altered his path,
leading to his rebirth as an indefatigable Nashville volunteer, and a
nomination for one of the city’s most prestigious volunteer honors – the Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Award.
The first of those happy accidents occurred in South Carolina in third grade
when the wad of bubble gum Boland was hurling at a buddy hit “this pretty little girl” instead. That little girl, Glenda Wages, forgave him, eventually becoming his high-school
sweetheart. By the time Dick was in college at Clemson, and Glenda was
finishing high school, she became his wife, beginning a journey together he
calls the greatest years of his life.
“We were both introverts, but we knew we were right for one another and we grew
together,” he explained.
By chance, the couple ended up in Nashville, when Dick was transferred to the
Dupont plant. While raising two daughters, Dick worked in purchasing and
quality control. He was a corporate guy – like most American men, defined by his work.
But in 2000, Glenda was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next two years,
the cancer kept coming back.
“I asked her what she wanted to do, if she wanted to try experimental therapies,” Dick remembered. “She told me she wanted to cash out our 401Ks, quit our jobs and travel. So that’s what we did.”
Suddenly the corporate man had traded his old job for a new job as caregiver for
his terminally ill wife. In between bouts of surgery and chemotherapy for
Glenda, the couple spent time taking cruises and touring places like Monument
Valley in the U.S. Southwest. They reveled in the time together, enjoying new
adventures until Glenda finally passed away in 2005.
“When my wife died, I went to bed for three months. I never was a drinker – didn’t try it,” Boland explained. “I didn’t have a plan.”
With assistance from his family, Boland eventually started moving again. Then a
persistent grief counselor challenged him to come up with a plan to give
structure to his days, like tutoring foster children.