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Somewhere Between Intimidating and Inspiring

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Donya Rose, CSCP
Managing Principal, The Cygnal Group 

One should never underestimate the importance of a strong father figure in a child’s life. When your father is a rocket scientist who served in the U.S. Air Force, that may be an understatement.

For Donya Rose, the influence of her father, Clifford Boylston, has remained an enormous presence throughout her colorful and accomplished adult life.

Your father held an interesting occupation, or a handful of them, did he not?
He did. At 29 years old during the height of the space race, my father, Clifford Boylston, was the chief project engineer for the Service Arms that supported NASA’s rockets just prior to launch, swinging out of the way as the rocket ascended. They were there to supply power and fuel and doing much more than just stabilizing the rocket. He then went from that kind of work to being head of engineering for Snapper Lawnmowers. He quickly went from an engineering challenge where he could use solid gold on all the connectors since the arms could never fail, to a job where if he could shave a tenth of a cent off the cost of a switch on a lawnmower, he’d be a hero. He still loves thinking about that contrast and his transition.

How much did your father’s success, and his encouragement, empower you as you grew?
It was a big deal. I credit Daddy with a lot of my success because he had two daughters. I was the older of the two. His respect and encouraging nature for us were so important. He was always an assertive, smart, powerful man. I’m never intimidated by any CFOs, CEOs or anybody else. Because I grew up with Daddy, I’m good with whatever they bring (laughing).

This empowered feeling, was that fostered even more or shot down as you went through your educational experiences in North Carolina?
I was in one of the first classes of women at Davidson College. That was another situation where there were many smart men around me, most of whom never questioned or looked down on me. The quality of my contribution was the important thing.

As far as family, your children have gone into diverse professional fields, successful people who have been scattered across the country pursuing opportunities. How have you and your husband passed your intelligence, success and drive down to them?
To me, one of the most important things about my life is that I’ve made my children a huge priority. It’s one of the reasons I’m a consultant. It allows me the flexibility to have a career, contribute to their education, but also be available to be involved and active in their lives in a way that other professional jobs don’t necessarily allow. They would probably say my involvement with them has been somewhere between intimidating and inspiring (laughing).

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As far as hobbies outside the office, what stands out above the rest?
The depth of my commitment to Camp Nakanawa, a classic girls camp that started in the 1920s. It’s a camp I went to as a child, where my grandmother actually lived six months of the year for many years. It’s been an important part of our family. All three of my girls went there. I still go every summer, for a week, to lead a reunion weekend they have. I also go back about three times a year for various other activities. It’s something that’s been very sustaining for me, the sense of community. In a weird way, in our very transient society, it’s a more persistent community than the one you’d find in your town. People return to that camp from literally all over the world. There’s something about knowing little girls, when you know their mothers, you know their aunts, you know their grandmother, and you might even know their great-grandmother. There aren’t a lot of places left in our world like that, where those long-term interactions across generations of family happen. This is a place where it does.

When did you first attend Camp Nakanawa? And what was the inspiration to attend it in the first place?
I don’t think I was even walking the first time I was there, but of course that was with my parents as a visitor. The first time I was there as a camper, I was eight years old. I went for eight weeks. My grandmother was there, but she was across the lake, so I didn’t see her but once or twice that summer. My grandmother was good friends with the owner’s parents, and when her husband died, the owner invited her to come and help. A lot of the camp’s inspiration — remember, it started in the 1920s — came from the polio epidemic before the vaccine was developed. It was all about this healthy country air, getting children out of the big cities where polio was more of a risk in the summer. So they grew all their own corn and green beans and tomatoes and all sorts of things.

My grandmother was quite a gardener and helped to start all those little seedlings in a greenhouse before spring so there would be vegetables for the campers by the time they arrived in June. As she aged, she became sort of a gardening executive, pointing her cane at places where somebody needed to plant something.

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What exactly were the benefits to such a camp as your life transitioned into motherhood?
One of the things I love most about it is when I first dropped each of my children off at college, I could look around and immediately know who had been to camp. The parents who were a wreck were the ones who didn’t know how their children would handle living away from home and family, didn’t know what was going to happen when they had to be themselves in the world. For many, if they’d been to camp, it would have been a little easier. Those students are going to make good friends, leave them, miss them terribly, and then they’re going to be fine. That happens to campers every summer. Whether or not my girls would profess the love of camp I do, I’m not really sure. But whether or not it was foundational in their maturing? Yes, absolutely, it was.

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