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A daughter of encouragement


Libby Boatwright leaves legacy of compassion at Lake Grove Presbyterian

A common saying about successful people leaving a position is “they leave big shoes to fill.”

In the case of the Rev. Libby Boatwright, she is practically leaving behind a shoe store at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. Boatwright has worked on so many projects with such energy, talent and commitment that her associates sadly say, “She can’t be replaced.”

Boatwright has left her congregation in this dilemma because, after 10 years here, she is leaving to become the head chaplain for the Stanford University Clinic in Palo Alto, Calif. But she is leaving for the best of reasons. God is leading her that way.

“God told me, ‘It’s time to go,’” Boatwright said. “Everything worked out so that my husband, Frank, and I could move to California. We put our house here up for sale and it sold in two hours. I really want to do hospice work and this will be a great opportunity to do it.”

Still, Lake Grove Presbyterian will not be the same place without her. Just ask some of her parishioners.

“Libby is a dynamo,” said Jan Pearce. “She has done so many wonderful things. She has empowered other people and found places for them to serve.”

“Libby is invaluable,” said Laurel Mousakis. “She has such compassion, especially for elderly people. She’s an angel. She will be really, really hard to replace. Libby is the hands and feet of Jesus Christ; she really is.”

“Libby is one of those high-energy people,” Eric Rey said. “She has always got her hand into something. She can do so many things and do them successfully.”

Obviously, Boatwright is a woman of many talents. And, she said, “In all my work as a minister, God has used everything I’ve ever done.”

Strangely enough, it is highly unusual that Boatwright became a minister of the Gospel. She has lived many lives and earned many high academic degrees, but in her early life it seemed she would be anything but a minister. Boatwright started out in Rockville Center, N.Y., then hopscotched along with her parents across the country to Pennsylvania, to New York again, and arrived in California at the same time as the Brooklyn Dodgers. She earned three degrees in drama and was even a professional mime for many years. One of her most interesting positions was her seven years as stage manager for the San Francisco Opera in its golden age, hosting the greatest opera singers of their day — Placido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills.

Boatwright supported all of these golden voices with her almost heroic versatility. The best example was the time when there were no understudies to be found to go in for the opera “Romeo and Juliet.” Desperate, Boatwright got the only person available: herself. She tossed on the fancy gown of her character, Lady Capulet, but she was sweating bullets. Adding to the enormous pressure, the head of the San Francisco Opera, Terry McEwen, was in the audience.

“I was totally nervous,” Boatwright said. “I felt the makeup melting off my face.”

The kettle drums of doom were rolling. But Boatwright came through like a champion with her soaring solo. It consisted of two words: “He’s dead.”

Despite this triumph, Boatwright was well aware that show business could leave her high and dry, so she went ahead to earn degrees in finance and earn accreditation as a financial adviser.

However, all of this was just a warm-up for her true calling as a minister. Her first church job came at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in which she handled the ministry for divorce counseling.

“It was an insane position,” Boatwright said. “But I did it.”

She made another attempt to go into financial planning full time, but she ended up going to a church in Hawaii and then rejoined the ministry staff at Menlo Park. In 2003 she was looking to make a change. One hour after she put her personal information on the Internet, she got a phone call from the Rev. Bob Sanders, head minister of Lake Grove Presbyterian. After three months of the church members meeting Boatwright up close and personal she was offered the job.

“It was amazing,” Boatwright said.

With all of her talents and education, including a doctorate of divinity from George Fox University, Boatwright’s success can mostly be attributed to one thing — compassion. It has been the key ingredient for her accomplishments both great (building a village in Honduras, helping create the Oakridge Park Apartments for elderly residents in Lake Oswego) and small (her countless everyday encounters with people desperately seeking help). She offers them food, job counseling, financial advice and compassion. She imparts belief in people who long ago have stopped believing in themselves.

“Here I’ve seen life at its best and its worst,” Boatwright said. “People come to the church because it’s their place of last resort. They’re at their lowest point. And we can help them.”

Boatwright can point to some impressive statistics. This past year LGP found 170 jobs for people and sent 62,000 pounds of food to the Tualatin food bank. While many churches have declined over the past 10 years, Lake Grove Presbyterian has boomed. The church now has 33 ministries, with 22 deacons and 300 volunteers.

Also, it is not just how much is done, but how it is done.

“This is not done out of any vacuum,” Boatwright said. “It’s because we love Jesus Christ. We hear God’s word and do what we should do. Our work is done in the name of faith, not just a good deed. We take the word of God seriously, as a mandate.”

Boatwright says her biggest joy comes when she can help someone do something they did not believe they could do, like obtain a job after a long search or get out of severe financial difficulties.

“We want to lift you above this hole you’ve been living in,” she said. “What we want to do is give them back their life. Somebody says, ‘I got the job,’ and I say, ‘Yes!’”

Boatwright has one final, all-important, qualification. She knows from experience where people are coming from. Boatwright has gone through a divorce in her first marriage, child custody battles and bankruptcy. She can speak with assurance when she tells supplicants: “You can do this. You can get past this.”

“Irreplaceable” may be too weak a word to describe Boatwright. But the doors she has opened at LGP will not close.

Pearce said, “Although Libby will be missed, she has been very intentional about cultivating leadership at Lake Grove Presbyterian.”

Boatwright will no longer be here, but her work will still go on.

On Sunday at 4 p.m. there will be a farewell party for Boatwright. Lake Grove Presbyterian Church is located at 4040 Sunset Drive.