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Obituary: A. Warne Boyce / Established testing labs, formed rugby club

Friday, May 10, 2002

A. Warne Boyce arrived in Pittsburgh from his native South Africa in 1962 with the intention of staying five years. Instead, he spent the rest of his life here, building a successful laboratory business with 23 locations nationwide.

Starting from a single dairy laboratory in the North Side in 1969, Wexford-based Microbac Laboratories grew into the fifth largest independent laboratory group in the nation. The firm, which Mr. Boyce founded and led as its chairman, specializes in environmental and food testing.

Mr. Boyce, 72, died yesterday at his O'Hara home. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer last September.

He was the founder of the Pittsburgh Rugby Football Club and a board member and later executive committee member of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the Smaller Manufacturers Council from 1973 to 1974.

"He was a true Horatio Alger story, an immigrant's success story" said Allegheny County Executive James C. Roddey, a friend who traveled in professional and social circles with Mr. Boyce. "Warne was a smart, shrewd entrepreneur, but he had an old-world politeness and manner about him that all his peers admired."

Mr. Boyce played rugby for Oxford in the early 1950s. He met his future wife, Doreen, when both were students there. On their first date, on May 6,1954, he took her to a track meet at the university, and they watched Roger Bannister run history's first sub 4-minute mile.

Eight years later, after living briefly in both Britain and South Africa, and with two young children in tow, the couple arrived in Pittsburgh, where Mr. Boyce became a manager at Megator. The firm, then located in the North Side, sold compressors and pumps for industrial and military uses.

"We came to this country with our luggage and maybe $4,000 tops," said Doreen Boyce, who heads the Buhl Foundation, Downtown. "Coming to Pittsburgh was fate. That's where Warne's job was. Had it been Chicago or Cleveland we would have landed there."

During his tenure with Megator, Mr. Boyce became interested in laboratory work. In 1969, he purchased a dairy laboratory in the old Martin Building, in an area of the North Side that is now part of PNC Park.

It was two years before the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Boyce knew Pittsburgh businesses had trouble getting timely and reliable environmental testing results, so he specialized in that field and called his company Microbac.

His two children, Caroline and J. Trevor, spent their summer months mopping floors and washing test tubes at the Pittsburgh laboratory. Trevor joined the firm as an adult and became its president in 1993.

Norma Augustyniak, who worked at the first lab when Mr. Boyce purchased it and is still employed at Microbac's Warrendale facility, said the new owner was "always there when you needed him." One Thanksgiving about 15 years ago, Augustyniak found that Mr. Boyce needed her, too.

She was returning from a drug store when she noticed Mr. Boyce's car parked outside Microbac's location on McKnight Road and decided to stop. The workaholic boss was at the office with the copying machine jammed and already had called Augustyniak's house seeking help. She fixed the machine and went on her way.

Mr. Boyce served as president of the Pittsburgh Dance Council. He served on the boards of the Pittsburgh Opera, the Pressley Ridge School and St. Edmund's Academy. He was a chairman of the American Council of Independent Laboratories and represented small business on President Gerald Ford's Panel on Inflation in 1974.

He was an honorary fellow of St. Edmund Hall at Oxford University, where he had studied history. He received the Lewis E. Harris Fellow, the highest award from the American Council of Independent Laboratories, which is most often given to professional scientists.

He was a member of the Duquesne Club, Longue Vue Club and the Stonington Country Club in Connecticut, near the family's summer home in Weekapaug, R.I.

In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 1 at the Episcopal Church of Ascension in Oakland.

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