Absolutely no one could tell the Palm Beach Atlantic University story the way that cardiologist Dr. Donald Warren did.
As its founding chairman, Dr. Warren was the University’s first fundraiser-in-chief and remained its No. 1 cheerleader throughout his life. Dr. Warren died March 31, 2014 in West Palm Beach. He was 86.
Through prayer and with great humility, he used his gift for storytelling to persuade some of America’s wealthiest businessmen to become benefactors of the small but growing Christian college. Likewise, his influence, credibility and forthright manner were valued by a list of non-profit organizations who tapped him for leadership roles.
“He modeled the life of Christ. He was the greatest relationship builder I have ever witnessed and he served as the University's captain through times of turbulence and abundance,” William M. B. Fleming, Jr., Palm Beach Atlantic’s president, said. “The thriving University we know today is a direct result of his sheer determination and the sense of calling on his life. I am honored to call him my mentor and friend.”
In the mid-1960s, Dr. Warren was asked to help establish a Christian college in West Palm Beach to counterbalance America’s shifting moral climate. Dr. Warren became the founding chairman of the board of trustees – a post that he held from 1968 until he became a life trustee upon his retirement on Dec. 31, 2006, – and helped establish Palm Beach Atlantic College (now University) in downtown West Palm Beach in 1968.
Along with his wife, Betty Anne “Bebe” Welch Warren, Dr. Warren, a Palm Beach resident, remained a frequent presence on PBA’s campus long after his retirement. The University’s Warren Library is named for the couple.
His final speaking engagement on campus took place in January during a special chapel presentation on the first day of classes for the spring semester.
“I’m a storyteller,” he told the students in attendance. “I’ve never asked anybody for any money; however, I’ve told them what we’re doing for Christ and given them the great opportunity to give.”
The roll call of early PBA supporters is impressive: John D. MacArthur, who was one of the nation’s three wealthiest men at the time of his death in 1978; Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway and owner of the NBA’s Orlando Magic; former UPS employee and stockholder turned millionaire Ted Johnson; William G. Lassiter Jr., who made his fortune in shopping malls during Florida’s boom years; and construction magnate Marshall E. “Doc” Rinker Sr.
Dr. Warren came to know these individuals and many others through his stellar cardiology practice, which eventually included some of the wealthiest and most influential men and women in the United States.
Photo Above: Dr. Donald and "Bebe" Warren in the Warren Library that they helped bring into being.
Yet Dr. Warren came from extremely humble beginnings. He was born May 18, 1927 in Miami, Fla., to Hosea and Norma Warren. His father, who delivered ice for a living, moved the family to Lakeland after the onset of the Great Depression.
Dr. Warren served in the Navy and later attended Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. He then enrolled in medical school at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he served as a junior and senior assistant resident in internal medicine. He also completed a cardiology fellowship with Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.
While at Duke, Dr. Warren met his future wife. The Warrens married in 1956 and soon thereafter settled in West Palm Beach, where they became active in First Baptist Church. Dr. Warren’s involvement with PBA came at the invitation of the church’s pastor, Dr. Jess Moody, who became the University’s founding president.
“Dr. Warren was extraordinary and made an indelible mark on Palm Beach County, the State of Florida and American higher education,” Scott G. Hawkins, chairman of the University's board of trustees, said. ”Palm Beach Atlantic University is today graduating a broad and diverse spectrum of students from across the world and with degrees in all disciplines, which is a direct product of his vision and fortitude.
"Dr. Warren’s response to Divine urging inspired others to forge an educational institution that has thrived during a period when many have declined," said Hawkins. "His legacy will live through countless generations.”
Retiring from a 40-year career in cardiology in 1996, Dr. Warren continued his community volunteerism. Dr. Warren was the founding president of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties. He also served on the executive committees and board of governors for both St. Mary’s and Good Samaritan Medical Centers, as well as on the board of governors for the former Intracoastal Health Systems.
In 1982, The Palm Beach Post named Dr. Warren one of “Palm Beach’s Power Hitters —The Ten Who Get Things Done in the County” and, in 1999, Warren was named one of the Post’s “100 people who changed the way we live” in its “Our Century" special edition. The University honored Warren with an honorary doctorate in 1988.
Dr. Warren was the recipient of the Community Leader Award from the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches (2013); the Town of Palm Beach’s Centennial Ambassador designation along with his wife, Bebe (2011), American Legion’s Community Hall of Fame Award (2000), the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award from Palm Beach County’s chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (1999), the Champion of Higher Independent Education in Florida Award (1975), the Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Heart Association (1974), the Civitan Citizen of the Year (1973), the American Heart Association Award of Merit (1970), and the Liberty Bell Award from the Palm Beach County Bar Association (1970).
In 2009, Dr. Warren published a book about PBA, “Miracles and Wonders: A Chronicle of Palm Beach Atlantic University.”
Photo Above: Dr. Warren near the entrance to the Warren Library; in the background is a portrait of him and Mrs. Warren.