The Post and Courier
Sunday, September 30, 2001
Story reprinted with permission.
Generations of cadets go far to remember The
The Post and Courier
His voice stopped an entire generation
of the Corps of Cadets dead in its tracks.
"Halt, Bubba" is all it ever took.
He didn't even bother to take the cigar out of his mouth.
They feared him, they avoided him,
sometimes attributed almost supernatural powers of detection
to him. But they also respected him, trusted him, loved him.
They called him The Boo.
For most of the 1960s, Lt. Col. Thomas
Nugent Courvoisie was The Citadel's assistant commandant of
cadets, the man who dished out the discipline. He was also an
unofficial guidance counselor to cadets, even a father to some.
He took his job home with him -- he once paid for a cadet's
emergency surgery, kept others out of trouble with the police.
When he was taken out of his high-profile
position in 1968 and moved to the college's supply warehouse,
he became a military role model -- he accepted his assignment
with dignity, without question.
There, The Boo grew into a larger-than-life
figure, a legend, a literary character. And now, nearly 20 years
after he retired from the school, his voice once again is a
common sound echoing between the buildings on the quadrangle,
from the stands at Johnson-Hagood Stadium.
In the last year, The Citadel and
its alumni have bestowed an honorary degree on Courvoisie and,
earlier this month, named the Alumni Center's banquet hall in
A movie version of Pat Conroy's book
"The Boo" is in the works, a well-known actor eager to play
the Citadel legend.
Today, The Boo jokes that he's like
Lazarus, back from the dead, but modestly suggests that he's
maybe getting too much attention. "I've had enough acknowledgment,"
Courvoisie said. "I'd almost say it's more than I deserve. Some
would agree with me."
That's how it is with The Boo -- he
tells it like it is. His candor won him a legion of fans and
cost him a job. But, facing his 85th birthday next month, Courvoisie
has survived it all in good spirits.
The uniform is retired, the cigar
10 years gone, but the commanding, charismatic presence remains,
the sentences still punctuated with "Bubba."
For nearly 70 years, his friends say,
The Boo has represented the ultimate Citadel Man.
"The Citadel is all about character
and developing it in the men and women who go here," Citadel
President Maj. Gen. John S. Grinalds says, "and he embodies
character. That is why I respect and admire the man so much."
THROUGH LESESNE GATE
Watching the Corps march by from the new alumni center library
on a recent afternoon, The Boo notes with satisfaction that
his alma mater is in great shape.
"Definitely The Citadel is in the
best condition it's been in in a long time," Courvoisie says.
"There are top-notch people here, our academics are in good
shape. We've gotten over (admitting) women -- there ain't nothing
we can't beat. That's my opinion."
It is a decidedly informed opinion.
The Boo has a historical perspective on the military college
going back to 1934 -- his plebe year.
The son of a Savannah bookkeeper and
filling station owner, Courvoisie grew up attending a military
high school run by monks before moving on to The Citadel. After
three years, health problems forced Courvoisie to withdraw from
college. He joined the Georgia National Guard, worked on a freighter,
sailed to Europe.
When World War II broke out, Courvoisie
watched it from European battlefields. There, he met an Army
Nurse named Elizabeth Cosner, whom he married. By 1950, he had
worked his way back as close as Georgetown, where he got permission
to re-enroll at The Citadel. He commuted and graduated with
the class of 1952. Then came Korea. He landed there the day
the war ended.
In 1959, the Lt. Col. Courvoisie came
back to The Citadel as an assistant professor of military science.
It was while he was teaching that he caught the eye of the commandant's
department. In 1961, after retiring from active military duty,
he took over discipline for the Corps.
Courvoisie was the picture of military
ferocity: Dapper in a pressed uniform, a stern look on his face
as he gnawed on a cheap cigar. He could pass out demerits, confinements
and tours -- a form of punishment that requires a cadet to march
back and forth across the quadrangle -- as fast as a gunslinger.
But the cadets soon learned that beneath
that gruff exterior there was a gentle, fair heart. He called
members of the Corps his "lambs" and he protected them fiercely.
When you were in his bad graces, you were a "bum."
"I guess you'd call it tough love,"
says David A. Bornhorst, class of '68. "He showed warmth and
compassion to the cadets. He had a unique gift of knowing when
a cadet needed some special help or a night out with his parents.
If a situation was too tense, he could lighten the mood with
Perhaps it was because they felt so
close to him, so at ease around him, that escaping The Boo became
almost a sport for cadets who wanted to sneak out for a night
on the town. Courvoisie worked the Corps like a detective, and
sometimes even caught AWOL cadets by feeling car hoods to see
which ones were warm.
The story of his nickname's origin
came from one alleged chase. A cadet bragged to members of his
company that he had snuck out the previous night and had been
chased by the colonel. He ran into the marsh and Courvoisie
followed, but the cadet got out of the muck quicker.
Wading through the marsh, the cadet
remarked, the colonel looked like a giant, hulking caribou.
The moniker stuck, and was eventually shortened to "Boo."
That's the story, and even The Boo
repeats it -- although he doesn't believe it. "I didn't do that,"
he says. "I ain't going through the marsh for no cadet. I could
catch him the next day."
And he often did.
According to his lambs, The Boo often
gave out evening passes to the cadets who had the most inventive
-- and ludicrous -- stories about why they needed a free night.
His sense of humor was one of his most compelling, and most
He felt he needed something to break
the tension. The Boo was watching over a Corps that kept one
eye on war; saw classmates shipped off to be killed in action,
struggled with vicious hazing. They needed someone to talk to.
"In the heat of all the emotion of
Vietnam, the colonel was a very human side to the military,"
says Chuck Eiserhardt Jr., class of '68. "It was the human touch
that meant so much to us."
The Boo's influence and guidance stretched
beyond the gates of The Citadel. He visited cadets in the hospital
and bailed them out of jail. Eventually, local police just turned
cadets who had gotten in trouble over to The Boo. The judges
said they would go along with whatever punishment he thought
was appropriate. That likely saved the careers of some of his
cadets -- an arrest record can hurt someone trying to become
a military officer.
Shortly after he arrived on campus
as a knob, Pat Conroy remembers a very useful piece of advice
someone passed along to him.
"The first thing I was told, 'If you're
ever in trouble, go see The Boo. Make it bad trouble -- don't
waste it,' " Conroy recalls. "I remember I was terrified of
As a result, Conroy and Courvoisie
were not especially close in those days. But that changed a
year after Conroy graduated in 1967. During a chance meeting
with The Boo, Conroy learned that Courvoisie had been kicked
out of the commandant's office, moved to the central supply
warehouse and told not to have any contact with the Cadets.
Officially, The Boo had been declared
bad for discipline.
On that day, a writing career was
launched and the seeds of legend were planted.
RANKING THE CITADEL
"The Boo" was published in 1970, while
Courvoisie was "handing out toilet paper" in The Citadel's supply
warehouse. It was not an immediate hit. Even though Courvoisie
and Conroy put profits from the book into a scholarship in the
colonel's name, the book was banned on campus.
Although the book did criticize the
reassignment of The Boo -- "The Boo became expendable. The new
advisors did not admire The Boo's work, felt he was too personal
with the cadets, and felt he was not tough enough to be an Assistant
Commandant," Conroy wrote -- it was mostly filled with humorous
anecdotes of cadets trying to outrun, outsmart and outguess
The Boo in their never-ending quest to get away with something.
Many cadets, Conroy included, say
that the men in charge of The Citadel were jealous of the popularity
of the relatively low-ranking Courvoisie. Most people say that
it was the affection of the Corps that cost The Boo his job.
Others believe an outraged Courvoisie spoke out about a rash
of amnesties given to cadets, an erasing of punishment that
he felt undermined his authority.
The Boo refers to those times as when
he was in "purgatory." But he continued to do his duty in the
warehouse, and the book honoring him continued to sell.
If he thought he was forgotten, he
was wrong. Two scholarships were set up for him -- one in his
name, the other in his wife's -- and money for them came from
his former lambs and sales of Conroy's book. Then, in October
1973, some former cadets say one of the most remarkable things
in The Citadel's history happened: The entire Corps broke rank
to march by The Boo's house to sing happy birthday.
Courvoisie was getting over a heart attack
and could barely make it outside, but he put on his uniform,
walked outside and saluted a Corps that had respect for him
even though they had almost no contact with him.
In the warehouse, The Boo was underemployed
and ignored. He had six hours of work to fill his eight-hour
day, and that's when he started tracking Citadel graduates.
He was torn; he loved the school, but didn't know if he should.
Sitting in what he considered exile, he began to wonder if he
should stay. Is The Citadel worth it? He wondered.
He began to chart the careers of Citadel
graduates, beginning with the class of 1846 -- the first to
finish four years at the school -- and working his way forward
in time. He spent his extra two hours a day researching former
"We have turned out 160 generals,
too many lawyers and 300 ministers -- and there ain't nothing
in the barracks that encourages them to be good," he says. "I
decided it was worth it."
The Boo stayed at The Citadel warehouse
until 1982, taking occasional jaunts -- on the school's dime
-- to promote the military college. His popularity was on the
rise, especially after Conroy's novel "The Lords of Discipline"
-- featuring a Boo-based character called the Bear - was published
After he retired, The Boo came back
to campus whenever he was asked, which was not very often. It
seemed his relationship with the college was over.
HONORING THE BOO
As The Citadel struggled with admitting
women in the 1990s, some former graduates thought of Courvoisie
and how he could have made things better. The Boo had helped
make The Citadel's one of the smoothest integrations of all
But The Boo wasn't a particularly
welcome sight on campus, even as he lived just across the river
in Mount Pleasant with his third wife, Dot, whom he married
after Elizabeth died.
When Grinalds took the reins at The
Citadel, however, Courvoisie found himself invited to come around
more often. The general had read the book on the colonel and
believed he stood for the kind of character The Citadel tried
to instill in its cadets. Grinalds and the school's Board of
Visitors began making strides to bring Courvoisie back into
Ultimately, The Boo was awarded an
honorary doctorate by The Citadel's Board of Visitors in 2000
-- along with Conroy, who had been in worse graces than The
Boo ever thought about being.
So when Eiserhardt and some other
alumnus approached Grinalds about naming the banquet hall in
the new alumni center after The Boo, it was no surprise that
they not only got the college's blessing, but its encouragement.
A few solicitations later, about $370,000
has been raised for the hall in Courvoisie's name. Eiserhardt
said that many of The Boo's lambs had been trying to come up
with another way to honor the colonel, to show him how much
he meant to them during their four-year stays at The Citadel.
"It's just something very important
to us, to have the opportunity to honor him and help The Citadel
at the same time," Eiserhardt said.
Nowadays, people clamor to The Boo
when he makes one of his frequent trips to the campus. Copies
of "The Boo" signed by the colonel fly off the shelves at the
alumni center bookshop, some of them inscribed "Welcome Lambs"
to the children of the flock he watched over.
There's a buzz about a possible cable
TV movie based on the book. Actor Brian Dennehy is enthusiastic
about portraying Courvoisie.
And Conroy promises more Boo anecdotes
next year when he publishes "My Losing Season," an account of
his senior year playing basketball for The Citadel.
More than anything, The Boo seems
to enjoy just staying in touch with his lambs, the people who
have honored him with their donations and tributes, the people
who helped him through the death of his second wife earlier
Looking back at a long career, The
Boo says the thing he is most proud of is that, between the
scholarships and the banquet hall, more than $590,000 has been
raised for The Citadel in his name. "I don't think I deserve
all that, but I'm glad The Citadel got it. We stress character
here," he says.
The Boo says "we" as if he and the
college are one in the same.
For a lot of people, they are.