James Isbell Boynton

james boynton

February 10, 1947 ~ May 12, 2024

Born in: Talladega, Alabama
Resided in: Nashville, Tennessee


On the morning of May 12, 2024, at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, with his two daughters
by his side, the tender heart of James Isbell Boynton skyrocketed into the heavens amongst the
colors of the northern lights and the songs of the Tennessee cicadas. Words are futile to
describe the life and character of this man, but, in the interest of the occasion, one must try their
very best.

Born on the 10th of February 1947, to an MIT-graduate father and a free-spirited artist mother,
Mr. Boynton was destined to become the legend he became from the start. At 513 Boynton
Avenue, Talladega, Alabama, where his story began, he spent countless hours as a child
surrounded by a cast of Southern characters who influenced his personality and played
recurring roles in the stories he’d tell throughout his life.

His most frequently told stories were of the times he spent with the women of color who helped
raise him, his nannies, Johnnie Mae, Clara, and Fannie Jenkins. He was such an admirer of
theirs that his sister Angie recalls a time when she came upon a 5-year-old James assisting
Clara bottle-up her famous home-brew at the family kitchen table back when Talladega was still
a dry county.

James often recounted stories of Howard, too, his childhood hero, who dazzled him as a boy
with his skill for growing things and keeping the hedges and grounds of his family home pristine.
Like his nannies, James admired Howard deeply — as much or more than any other man in his
life at the time — and his name remained a constant one in the homes and family members he
left behind.

These experiences as a child helped form Mr. Boynton’s character, upsetting the prejudices of
the Deep South at the time, and started him on a life-long course of unconditional love,
nonjudgement, and acceptance for all.

As a young man, James continued to live a life filled with storied adventures and legendary
travels. After his father’s untimely death at the age of 12, and in an attempt to bond with his new
stepson, James fondly remembered boating down the Alabama River all the way from
Montgomery to Mobile with his mother’s new husband, U.S. Army Air Forces ACE, Clayton
Davis. Clay’s career eventually took Mr. Boynton and his family to Europe, expanding his mind,
deepening his appreciation of art, and developing his character even more.

In Ramstein, Germany, James attended Kaiserslautern High School, where he was the football
quarterback and voted best looking his senior year. He drove his Alfa Romeo sports car filled
with friends across Europe visiting the Roman Colosseum, seeing The Beatles perform live in
Barcelona in 1965, and taking race car lessons in Italy. He even experienced his first “intimate”
encounter in Paris, France, on the infamous Rue Saint-Denis, because of course he did.

In Leysin at the American College of Switzerland, James spent his freshman year of college
palling around with his friend and suitemate — an unknown aspiring actor with an interesting
name — Michael Sylvester Stallone. The two skied, lifted weights, drank German beer, and
attracted the affections of many young coeds together, yet James did remark often how much
Mike enjoyed looking at himself in the mirror.

When his family relocated back to the States, James transferred to Auburn University where he
would eventually graduate with a degree in political science. During this time, he began to
develop what would become some of his life-long passions, namely literature, photography, and
music. His friend Bill Wiese remembers when James went to see Elvis twice in two nights, once
in Auburn and the next in Tuscaloosa, and on the second, he was able to slip past security to
take film photography of the King with his Nikon camera directly beside the stage.
James became a legacy member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon after his father, but would later leave
the fraternity based on a moral objection when a group of his brothers were kicked-out for
smoking pot. “I wanted to be with the hippies,” he’d say.

During college breaks, he often took his hippy friends down to his mother’s home in Shalimar,
Florida, where he loved to show her off. Always a riot and extravagantly dressed, her Southern
cooking was unparalleled and James loved watching his buddies' faces when they got to enjoy
her home-cooked meals.

His youngest sister Stacey fondly remembers his visits home and just how exceptional James
was at making others feel loved: “When I was about 8 or 9 years old, James invited me to sit in
on some penny poker games he’d set up on a card table in the garage. He showed me how to
play and made me feel so special to be included with him and his friends.”

His deep love, affection, and admiration for the women in his life would prove to be some of his
greatest gifts when James Boynton would later become the father of two little girls.
At a college shrimp boil and keg party, swinging from the rafters of an old barn, is how Mr.
Boynton’s future wife, Kris Swanson, would first lay eyes on James. She would be his only wife
in life, and although their marriage ended in divorce, the two remained great friends and support
systems for each other as the parents of their two girls, Sarah and Rebecah.

Being a father would be James’ greatest accomplishment in life, raising his children with an
unconditional love, a profound natural empathy, and a genuine playfulness unparalleled to most.
Countless hours were spent jumping his girls on the trampoline, spotting his youngest as she
practiced backflips, and swimming whenever and wherever they could. He taught them to be
brave and to accomplish daring feats like jumping off the high-dive at the Opelika Rec Center
and swimming safely through the biggest ocean waves during annual summer trips down to
Destin, Florida.

James loved physical activity and prided himself on his physical health. A gifted athlete and
runner, he took his girls to the track with him often as they rode their bikes and he “ran the
straights and walked the curves.”

A life-long dedicated practitioner of natural medicine, James was one of the earliest, most loyal
shoppers, over multiple decades, of Dayspring Natural Grocery. His girls were the only ones out
of all their friends growing up in Opelika who were given carob cookies and goldenseal drops
every morning in their orange juice.

James was an unconventional, unique character. He read literary classics to his children —
“The Secret Garden,” was a favorite — and he played records for them and taught them about
rock ‘n’ roll and soul legends like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Nina Simone. He made sure his
girls had their own mini Fisher Price turntables so they might develop their own personal love for
records, music and stories, too.

Second to being his daughters’ greatest supporter, cheerleader, and best friend, James was an
notably extraordinary writer and wrote stacks of journals documenting decades of his
remarkable life filled with his own hilarious insight, tender moments, and life’s heartbreaks. His
ability to tell stories, to see the good in everyone, and serve as an emotional support for his
daughters were direct symptoms of his unbounding empathy. His service heart, his infectious
joy, and his quirky wit will forever be missed — forever — by the people who knew him, but
especially his girls.

James Isbell Boynton is preceded in death by his father, William Nathan Boynton of Talladega,
Alabama, and his mother, Mary Alston Colvin of Lincoln, Alabama, and Caddo Parish,
Louisiana. He is survived by his two daughters who carry the copies of his heart, Rebecah Leigh
Boynton and Sarah McRae Boynton Bratcher; his three sisters, Angela Deal, Pattie Brooks, and
Stacey Morrison; his dedicated son-in-law, William Dean Bratcher, esq; and a slew of nephews,
nieces, and friends he made throughout his remarkable life.

The family invites you to a Celebration of Life for James Boynton this Saturday, June 29, 2024,
5:30-9pm, at Standard Deluxe in Waverly, Alabama. The service begins at 7pm. Please bring
your appetite and stories of the one-and-only James. (Standard Deluxe, 1015 Mayberry Ave,
Waverly, AL 36879)

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