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New Building to Honor 50-Year EHS Friendship

Two alumni who were EHS roommates 50 years ago picked up shovels and donned hard hats to break ground on a new facility that promises to benefit Episcopal students for at least the next half century. 
Alumni, friends, family, and School leaders gathered on June 11 to celebrate the new health and wellness center, which will open in 2022 and double the space of the 87-year old McAllister Health Center. The new building is part of a capital projects plan that includes two new dormitories also scheduled to break ground this summer and open in 2022.

Yet even as those at the groundbreaking looked to Episcopal’s future, they also honored the two former roommates and members of the Class of 1976 whose shared commitment to Episcopal helped make the building possible: Tench Coxe, who, with his wife Simone, is the lead donor for the new center, and William H. “Boota” deButts, the School’s CFO and who, with his wife Shelley, is beloved on campus. 

At Tench’s request, the building will be named the deButts Health & Wellness Center in honor of Boota and Shelley, as well as Boota’s father, Hunter deButts ’47. “I can’t imagine a more perfect name,” Head of School Charley Stillwell told the gathering, noting the family’s long history of leadership, service, and dedication to students. “We all know there is no one on this campus who cares more for the students than Boota.”

See photos and a video from the ceremony.

While at Episcopal, Hunter deButts ’47 was a standout athlete in football and track and also served as a senior monitor, among several leadership roles. Upon his 1951 graduation from the University of Virginia, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and saw combat in the Korean War as an infantry lieutenant with the 7th Marines, along with classmates Harvey Lindsay ’47 and Ed Leake ’47. After his military service, Hunter worked for AT&T for 10 years, then spent the remainder of his career in banking in Richmond and Marshall, Va.

During his time at EHS, Boota deButts ’76 was a head monitor and won awards for his leadership and contributions to campus life. A captain of the football, basketball, and lacrosse teams, he earned a spot on a list of Alexandria’s 100 greatest athletes. After graduating from Princeton — where he was captain of the lacrosse team — and following a distinguished career in business, Boota returned to Episcopal in 2005 with Shelley, becoming CFO. Both invested heart and soul in student life and as parents to their three children, all who attended EHS. Shelley coached squash, and Boota joined the School’s leadership team and began teaching entrepreneurship classes. One of the School’s most sought-after student advisors, he earned renown for, among other things, hosting advisory gatherings at his home with Shelley that featured homemade chocolate chip cookies he routinely made. 

At the ceremony, Shelley said: “Thank you, EHS, for giving Boota the chance to follow his passion and love for this place. Make no mistake: He bleeds Maroon. He definitely knows how to finance this building, but he also knows how many trees need to be planted here. He knows which street lights are out. He knows which scoreboards have their lights on. And he knows every student's name by heart.”

Among those attending the ceremony were Boota’s father and stepmother Jane; Shelley and Boota’s children: Lindsey ’08, Hunter ’10 with his wife Molly, and Austin ’12; Boota’s sisters Helen Christian and Jane Kates; and several of Boota’s former advisees. 

Boota and Tench Coxe met on their first day as freshmen when the two moved into their shared room on Dalrymple. “Boota taught me things that are probably more important than English or French or math,” Tench told the gathering. “He taught me humility, humor, and leadership. And his children all possess that same wonderful combination.”

The Health and Wellness Center is not Tench’s first tribute to the deButts family and their impact at EHS. In 2000, he established the Jane Sprague deButts Scholarship in honor of Boota’s mother. The scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate remarkable courage, determination, and character.

“This friendship has been one of my life's greatest gifts,” Boota said of Tench at the ceremony. “I cherish just how much he means to me. I love him, and I'm thankful for his friendship.” 

Boota also spoke of all the friendships made at Episcopal and their lasting, often unspoken influence. “These are some of the most important relationships of your life,” he said. “And you know it in your core, you know it in your gut, and you know it in your heart. These are people who just are part of you.”

The decision to build a new health and wellness center was part of the School’s 2018 Strategic Plan. Thanks to the transformational generosity of the School’s families, alumni, and friends, EHS trustees in April approved an accelerated timeline for starting the project, having secured necessary support far in advance of expectations.

The Strategic Plan features several initiatives to ensure that the rigor of the EHS academic program is balanced with a focus on the physical and emotional well-being of each student. 

McAllister was built in 1934 for a significantly smaller all-male student body and served for decades as an infirmary staffed by a visiting doctor and an on-call nurse. At just over 17,000 square feet, the new center will double McAllister’s size and feature comprehensive treatment and clinical work areas, spaces for health and wellness courses, separate waiting areas for sick and well patients, four exam rooms, and dedicated space for the School’s Counseling Center.

The new space also will house health and wellness services and programming that has grown in scale and sophistication in recent years as the School pioneered wellness initiatives and  education about mental health and sleep hygiene, the dangers of illegal substance use vaping, and more. EHS now has one health professional for every 35 students, the second-highest ratio among our 40 peer schools. 

At the groundbreaking, Sarah Akridge Knutson ’96, vice chair of the EHS Board of Trustees, noted the significance of the new facility as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. “There is not a better time to focus our efforts on the physical and mental health of our students,” she said. “This facility will support and amplify the already exceptional efforts EHS has in motion.”  

The School also will break ground soon on two new, 36-bed dormitories called for in the Strategic Plan. Enrollment will not increase; rather, EHS will lower the student-to-faculty ratios in each dorm and de-densify students’ living spaces. The smaller, more intimate environment will also make possible a new residential life curriculum that focuses on values, healthy relationships, and ethical leadership.