William & Mary

Message on the passing of Martin Boyd Coyner, Jr.

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community on July 14, 2014. - Ed.


I write to share the news that Martin Boyd Coyner, Jr., passed away on Saturday, July 5, 2014.  He was predeceased by his parents, Martin Boyd Coyner, Sr., and Ruth Harding Coyner, and his son, Martin Boyd Coyner, III.  He is survived by his wife of almost 64 years, Betsie Gilmer Coyner; his daughters, Meredith (Andy) Klemm and Ruth (Lewis) Bell, and son, Thomas Walker Coyner; 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1928, Boyd Coyner grew up in Farmville, Virginia, the only child of a family of educators.  Professor Coyner earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Virginia where he received a Ph.D. in History in 1961.  He joined the William & Mary faculty in 1969 as an associate professor of history after teaching at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College) for two years and at Hampden-Sydney College for ten.  He had also been Associate Archivist at the Virginia State Library from 1950-52.  Professor Coyner was best known for his upper-level lecture course on the Old South, which attracted a wide range of enthusiastic students, eager for his insights into the social, economic and political history of his native region.  He also graciously shared his unmatched knowledge of antebellum Virginia with his colleagues at W&M and historians across the South.  Throughout his career, he continued to research and presented numerous papers to the Southern Historical Association   He retired from W&M in 1994 after 25 years of devoted service to the university.

History colleague Ed Crapol remarked, “To me, Boyd was the epitome of a southerner of his generation - distinguished, erudite, polite and charming.  He wore ice cream white suits, enjoyed reciting poetry from memory, and was fond of citing Faulkner.  Boyd looked like “the Old South incarnate,” as Judith Ewell, former chair of the History Department, writes, but “students who came to the class for a burst of Confederate nostalgia” would be surprised.  Boyd was not a proponent of the Old South’s ethos.  In fact, he was best known beyond the campus for his much-cited dissertation on John Hartwell Cocke, a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, and one of Virginia’s most outspoken opponents of slavery.

Besides having a lifelong interest in his German Lutheran heritage, he was a gardener, a pianist and an avid reader of periodicals.  His knowledge of U.S. and world history was encyclopedic and he had boundless and eclectic intellectual curiosity.  Above all, he treasured his family and took an active interest in his children and grandchildren until the end.

Contributions in his memory may be made to either World Vision (www.worldvision.org) or Church Hill Academy and Tutoring (www.chatrichmond.org).