San Diego's tight-knit military community, and the San Diego region as a whole, lost one of its biggest proponents Tuesday.
Retired Rear Adm. Bruce Boland, a 34-year veteran of the Navy who served as San Diego's Navy mayor in the mid-1980s, died Tuesday morning after battling prostate cancer.
He was at home, surrounded by family.
"As a mentor, friend and community leader, Bruce was as good as they come," said retired Rear Adm. Len Hering, who, like Boland, served as commander of Navy Region Southwest, unofficially known as San Diego's Navy mayor.
"He and (Boland's wife) Elaine have given so much to the San Diego community and the San Diego military. If I were to look at defining the gentleman warrior, it would be Bruce."
Boland, who was 81, left his imprint on San Diego through both his military service and civic involvement.
As a member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board, he chaired the terminal development committee, he helped oversee the Green Build, the $1 billion expansion of Lindbergh Field's Terminal 2.
"It’s a huge loss," said former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who appointed Boland to the Airport Authority in 2006. "He's had a role in San Diego forever. He was a great admiral. He personified that position."
Boland was born June 2, 1933, in upstate New York.
His father flew for the Navy during World War II, and when the younger Boland received his draft notice in 1953, he enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet program.
During the Vietnam War, Boland commanded Fighter Squadron 24, flying F8 Crusaders and deployed three times to Vietnam aboard the USS Hancock (CVA-19).
He later commanded two major Navy ships as part of the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Forces, and served on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe in Casteau, Belgium, as a special assistant.
After that assignment, he was appointed deputy chief of staff and director of operations for U.S. Naval Forces Europe headquartered in London.
Boland returned to San Diego in 1983, commanding the Navy’s amphibious group in the Pacific, which had more than 30 ships. He was responsible for overall amphibious readiness and training for the entire fleet.
His Navy career ended in 1985 with his appointment as regional commander in San Diego and San Francisco, now Navy Region Southwest, and he served until 1987.
"He was a firm, but compassionate leader, and he had the innate ability to be very thoughtful," said Pete Hedley, who was president of the San Diego Military Advisory Council (SDMAC) when Boland was a board member. "But when a decision had to be made, he made the tough one, and he never shied away from doing what was right.
"He was what I consider a civic asset that really transcended his military career. Combined with his civilian contributions, he really was a cornerstone of the community and represented both the military side of our community and the private sector with the highest caliber of thought and devotion."
Upon leaving the Navy, Boland devoted his energies to serving the San Diego community while keeping close ties to the military
He began his government work with San Diego County, serving as deputy chief administrative officer and later as director of the Department of Public Works.
In 1993, he turned toward the nonprofit world when he was appointed president and CEO of the United Way of San Diego, serving for six years.
He also maintained his steadfast support of the military, serving as an original member of the SDMAC board. Perhaps his most prominent role was helping to craft the strategy to defeat Proposition A, the 2006 ballot initiative that sought to move Lindbergh Field to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It lost by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.
"He was a giving person," Hedley said. "He was thoughtful and had an open mind. He listened. He was firm in making his decisions, but he never operated with the vertical pronoun. It was always, 'What are we doing this for?' and, 'Is it good for the community?' His style really didn't change because he changed suits."
Boland helped launch the rehabilitation campus at Veterans Village of San Diego, which he cofounded with Neil Ash; he contributed to the USO Center at San Diego International Airport, the largest USO in the world; and he served on the boards of Alvarado Hospital, Kiwanis Club and Armed Services YMCA.
Hering described Boland as passionate, reserved and extremely thoughtful.
"He always was willing to give you that extra minute," Hering said. "Bruce was always looking out for the other guy. Bruce saw taking care of others as a priority in his life. He will be missed."
Services are pending.
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Sept. 26, 2013 -- George Chamberlin and Dr. Lynn Reaser, chief economist for Point Loma Nazarene University at the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute, talk about the San Diego Military Advisory Council's recent report on the military's economic impact on the San Diego region.
Sept. 26, 2013 -- George Chamberlin speaks with Brig. Gen. John W. Bullard Jr., commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West, MCB Camp Pendleton, about the economic impact the military has on the San Diego region.
Sept. 26, 2013 -- George Chamberlin and Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, discuss the military's economic impact on the San Diego region as outlined in the San Diego Military Advisory Council's latest report.