When Deborah Boothe decided to attend Thomas Nelson as a single mother in her early 30s, she feared returning to school after being out for so long. All she was looking for was a two-year degree. She wound up with so much more: a career.
Two years in the College’s work-study program led to four years as a part-time employee, which was followed by 25 years as a full-time employee in numerous departments and numerous roles. Her official retirement date was June 30 after more than three decades with the College.
“She was one of the finest employees Thomas Nelson’s ever had,” said Gary Pounder, the assistant director of Veterans Affairs and one of her many supervisors through the years. “She set a very high bar for all the rest of us to follow.”
Franz Albertini in Workforce Development was her last supervisor. He also sang her praises.
“I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to replace the valuable experience she has had in the last 30 years at the College,” he said.
So how did someone who entered college hoping to become a business owner stay for so long? Blame it on her early co-workers, who she said inspired her to stay at the College.
“I kept going from there on,” she said.
After two years in work-study and four as a part-time employee in admissions, she was hired full time in that department in 1996. She moved to military affairs about 10 years later, where she was a military adviser. Her main responsibility was Langley Air Force Base, but she also supported Fort Eustis, the Naval Weapons Station, and the entire military community. The last place she worked was in Workforce Development as a student services adviser.
“Just a tremendous ambassador for Thomas Nelson,” Pounder said. “Her knowledge of military programs was unparalleled. Her rapport with the military community, the respect that she enjoyed from military education officers, members of military populations, again, was unparalleled.”
It was just “coincidence” that she spent so much time in military affairs after she was in the Army for three years before attending Thomas Nelson. She did basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. One of her first responsibilities in admissions at the College was accompanying the military affairs personnel as they visited local bases. When a position with that team opened up, she got it.
Albertini said the one constant for Boothe, no matter her role or department was she always put the students first.
“She is student-focused. That is her major strength,” he said. “She takes care of her students from the very beginning to the very end. She makes sure she provides them with all the information to make an informed decision. She provides them with resources. She provides them with advice.”
All of those things make a great adviser, which she was, said Albertini. She provided outstanding customer service to students, regardless of their situation.
“That is one of the greatest strengths she has and has had in the past 30 years she has worked here at Thomas Nelson Community College,” Albertini said.
It wasn’t just her supervisors and co-workers who noticed her efforts. Pounder said the College often got phone calls from potential military students who specifically asked to speak with Boothe.
“This was before they enrolled,” he stressed. “They had gotten the word from their friends and colleagues, fellow service members who were already enrolled.”
The word was to ask for Boothe because she would provide the help and support needed for a successful educational journey.
“I think that is probably one of the greatest tributes anybody who works with the students could ever receive; when your reputation’s so good that it precedes you and students are asking for you by name before they enroll,” Pounder said. “That’s quite a testimony.”
She was named Thomas Nelson employee of the year in her department in 2019, but her exploits reached beyond the Peninsula. At her retirement ceremony in late May, she received congratulatory letters from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and VCCS Chancellor Dr. Glenn DuBois.
In reflecting on her years at the College, she said the diverse work force and student body provided her with her most memorable moments.
“I met so many different people, diverse people,” she said. “Coming from all different backgrounds, (I was) able to learn more about people, even about myself.”
She eventually did own a business for a short time (she was a jewelry consultant), putting her associate degree in management (Class of 1992) to use. But watching students earn their degree or certificate, especially those students with a background similar to hers (single mom, military, older student, first-generation student), meant the most to her.
“Seeing them walk across that stage and get their degree or a certificate; that to me was the highlight of my career, besides the people that I met as co-workers and we became great friends, like family,” she said
As she heads into retirement, she hopes to spend time with her other family: a daughter (her son recently passed away) and six grandkids. She plans to travel and continue work for her church. On her bucket list is a trip to Africa. She may pick up some new hobbies, among them gardening.
“I want to try my hand at it anyway. I’ve never gardened before,” she said. “It’s never been my forte but I want to try it now.”
She admits she’ll miss her co-workers and the students, but it’s time to move on to something else.
“I enjoyed my time there,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes, and my prayer is that Thomas Nelson will grow and become what the leaders see it as, what it can become. And continue to serve the community.”
Albertini was wistful when talking about Boothe.
“She’s going to be tremendously missed, not only for our team but also for the College,” he said. “She’s earned a well-deserved retirement.”