By Edie Gross
When he graduated from Mary Washington in 1988, Remus Boxley was the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree. But he represented the third of four generations to forge a connection with the campus. His younger brother, Gary Boxley ’11, would also go on to graduate from Mary Washington, and a nephew, Gary Lamar Boxley, would participate in the university’s James Farmer Scholars Program throughout high school.
“It’s like the family thing,” Louise Christian Boxley, Remus’ mother, said of her relatives’ many academic and professional links to the school. “It is awesome to think about it.”
But Louise wasn’t all that preoccupied with family tradition when she applied for a position at the C Shoppe in 1966, she said. She and husband Lloyd were expecting their fifth child, and she simply needed a job.
Her mother, Rosia Christian, and a maternal aunt, Nancy Jackson, had worked during the ’50s and early ’60s in the stifling heat of Mary Washington’s campus laundry. Taking the early shift at the C Shoppe would allow Louise to see her oldest children off to school in the morning and be back home in time to care for them when they returned. Louise’s sister, Jean Watts, also a mother of five, joined her at the C Shoppe in 1968 for much the same reason.
The women arrived each morning before the doors opened, prepping trays of eggs, bacon, and cinnamon-sugar toast for the inevitable breakfast crowd. Lunches were even more popular, the sisters recalled, with faculty, staff, and students lining up for homemade fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, grilled cheese-and-bacon sandwiches, and the crowd favorite: a club sandwich, sections cut into triangles and held together with frilly toothpicks, and potato chips piled high in the middle of the plate.
Louise and Jean’s boss, Mary Lee Carter, the cafe supervisor in those days, remembered, too. “We would have good ol’ Southern lunches at the C Shoppe,” she said. “We were really cooking in there.”
Carter initially hired Louise to operate the C Shoppe’s drink fountain, but it wasn’t long before she was also handling inventory, food prep, and the cash register. Pretty soon, Carter said, Louise and Jean were indispensable members of the college catering team, working a full day at the C Shoppe and then handling special events at the president’s home at Brompton or serving meals to the Board of Visitors.
“We were on our feet 15 hours a day, but it was fun because all the employees were like family. Louise had a wonderful personality. She wanted to move forward. She wanted to do whatever was in front of her, plus more,” Carter said. And Louise had a memorable sense of humor as well. “Her favorite words were, ‘Oh, get out of here!’ if someone told her something funny, and then she’d laugh. We enjoyed working together so much and laughing together.”
In those days, Louise said, Campus Drive – now Campus Walk – ran right through the middle of campus, in front of Lee Hall, and diners could smoke in the C Shoppe. No one used plastic to pay for meals, and students relied on cash and often asked for change in quarters so they could do their laundry. The C Shoppe was replaced by the Eagle’s Nest in 1987.
“It’s amazing how things have changed over the years,” she said, adding that she and her co-workers knew many of the diners by name. “The students were awesome, they really were. It was a nice place to work.”
In December 1984, Louise left the C Shoppe for a job as a bank teller at the on-campus branch of First Virginia. A month later, her son Remus Boxley took his first class at Mary Washington.
Remus was no stranger to the college. He was a baby when his mother started working there and, like his siblings and cousins, spent his fair share of time enjoying snacks at the C Shoppe. As a teenager, Remus – like his brothers Larry, Kevin, and Gary – worked part time on campus. Larry worked in Seacobeck Hall and on the grounds crew at Brompton, while the other three held jobs in Seacobeck, washing dishes, preparing the dining room for meal times, and – perhaps Remus’ least-favorite task – making sure the soft-serve ice cream machine was fully loaded and that the mix was frozen before students arrived.
Remus and Kevin said they both enjoyed interacting with the college students, who invited them to parties and tipped them off to upcoming acts on campus, including Billy Idol, R&B/pop artist Stacy Lattisaw, and comic Jimmie Walker from TV’s Good Times. And one of their favorite teachers at James Monroe High School, Frances Liebenow Armstrong ’36, now deceased, was herself a Mary Washington alum. But Remus said it never occurred to him that he could attend Mary Washington.
“I knew it was the school where I wanted to go. I didn’t know if I could get in, and if I could get in, if I could get a GPA that would keep me there,” he said. “I knew Mary Washington was a great school academically. I didn’t know if I was that great academically.”
By the time he was a sophomore at VCU, Remus said, he knew he wanted to come home, and not just on weekends. He also knew he still wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree. Applying to Mary Washington was the only way forward, he said. To his delight, he was accepted.
Remus leaned heavily in those first few semesters on close friend (and future cousin-in-law) Helene Bundy ’86, who married Jean Watts’ son, Lloyd.
“Helene’s graduating from Mary Wash struck a fire in me. I thought, ‘Now I have to do it on my own,’ ” Remus said. He began treating college like a job, spending at least eight hours each day on campus whether he had a class or not. He became the social chairman for the Black Student Association and joined the Admissions Club, giving tours of campus to prospective students and their families.
His professors encouraged his curiosity, and with each semester his confidence grew. He held a 3.4 GPA during his junior and senior years.
“A lot of faculty and staff at Mary Washington took an interest in me,” Remus said. He noted among them Fred T. “Tom” Whitman, retired professor of business administration who taught him marketing; the late Rosemary Herman, professor emerita of Spanish; and Edward Hegmann, the school’s longtime athletic director, who also taught a health class. “Just having those folks … rooting me on really made a difference.”
Having his mother nearby and the support of her colleagues didn’t hurt either, Remus said. “It always felt nice to have my mom on campus. The other people she worked with, I felt a certain kinship. They sort of looked out for me. It was a good feeling.”
Remus earned a bachelor’s degree in business and later a master’s in business administration from James Madison University. He has worked in the human resources field for more than 20 years and is now an independent HR consultant living in Bowie, Maryland. Because his own college experience was so positive, he said he preached higher education to his son, his niece, and his nephews – all of whom have pursued higher learning. He also bent the ear of his brother, Gary Boxley, who is a year younger.
After graduating from high school, Gary worked briefly at a drugstore warehouse and in construction before attending computer school and landing a career in IT. Over the next two decades, Gary said he considered college. Three times he even started down that road, taking classes at Germanna and Northern Virginia community colleges and the University of Phoenix. Each time, said the married father of two, life got in the way.
In 2009, the company he was working for offered a tuition reimbursement program for employees who earned a degree with a grade of C or better.
“I said, ‘If I’m ever going to do it, now’s the time,’ ” Gary said. “Rem was a big part of it, always in my ear: ‘There’s opportunities out there for you.’ ‘If I can do this, you can.’ ”
Most of Gary’s classes were in the evenings, after work, at the Stafford campus, with the exception of a nightmare statistics class that he took on Saturdays – and earned a B in. The program was geared toward working professionals, Gary said. He sometimes met with professors via Skype and even attended a class that way while on a work trip.
Gary set his sights on maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average. When he graduated in fall 2011 with a bachelor of professional studies in leadership and management, he did so with a 3.51 GPA.
“As an adult learner, your mindset is different. I decided if I was going in both feet and I’ve got to get a C or better, might as well see how good I can do,” said Gary, who opened his own State Farm Insurance agency in Dumfries in January 2015. “The whole experience was great.”
Gary’s younger son, Gary Lamar Boxley, participated in the UMW-sponsored James Farmer Scholars Program. Named for the civil rights leader and former UMW professor, the program helps African-American high school students in the Fredericksburg area prepare for college. It includes a weeklong residential camp at the school each summer.
“That first exposure to being away from home for a week was helpful in and of itself,” Gary said of his son, who headed off to Bridgewater College in August without so much as a glance back at his parents.
Oddly enough, the May 2016 ceremony that recognized Gary Lamar’s completion of the program was held in Lee Hall – right where the old C Shoppe used to be.
“It looks different, but it was definitely the same building,” Gary said. “It was one of those things where I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been here before!’ ”
The Boxleys at Mary Washington
Rosia Christian – the mother of Louise Boxley and Jean Watts – and her sister, Nancy Jackson, worked in the Mary Washington College laundry during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Louise Christian Boxley began working at the C Shoppe in 1966 and was joined by her sister, Jean Watts, about two years later. Louise worked there until December 1984, when she took a job as a teller at the on-campus branch of First Virginia. She retired from the bank in July 2005. Jean left the C Shoppe in 1987 after becoming the cafeteria manager at Falmouth Elementary School, where she worked for 27 years before retiring in 2014.
Jean notes that her sister-in-law, Sandra Coleman, also worked at the C Shoppe, and her daughter-in-law, Helene Bundy Watts, graduated from the college in 1986.
Louise and Lloyd Boxley, married 55 years, have one daughter and four sons. All four boys – Larry, Kevin, Remus, and Gary – worked part time on campus, either on the grounds crew or at Seacobeck dining hall.
Remus graduated from Mary Washington in 1988, as did his former wife, Kristina Carnegie Boxley. Their son is a junior at Georgetown University.
Gary, who is married to Helene Bundy Watts’ sister, Katrina Bundy Boxley, earned his degree from Mary Washington in 2011. His youngest son, Gary Lamar Boxley, participated in the UMW-sponsored James Farmer Scholars Program throughout high school before starting at Bridgewater College in the fall.