Dr. Donald Warren, the founding chairman of Palm Beach Atlantic University, died Monday morning at Hospice of Palm Beach County’s Charles W. Gerstenberg Center. The West Palm Beach resident and retired cardiologist was 86.
“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., PBAU’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.”
Dr. Warren was born in Miami and grew up in Lakeland. He attended Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., and graduated from Duke University Medical School in Durham, N.C. He also completed a cardiology fellowship with Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.
In addition to his work with PBAU, Dr. Warren was the founding president of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties and one of the founders of the Palm Beach Chapter of the American Heart Association.
A spellbinding storyteller, Dr. Warren had a knack for bringing people to his way of thinking through conversation, said Robert Simpson, Sr., who was chairman of PBAU’s board of trustees from 2010 to 2013.
After Dr. Warren and his wife, Bebe, settled in West Palm Beach in 1956, he built a cardiology practice that soon included some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the United States. Dr. Warren enjoyed playing golf when he was not working, and he and his wife were members of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach.
In the mid-1960s, the Rev. Jess Moody, then pastor of First Baptist Church West Palm Beach, asked Dr. Warren 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 and helped establish Palm Beach Atlantic College in downtown West Palm Beach in 1968.
“He was the best salesman I ever met. He loved people. He was quick to laugh. He always had a very ethical, moral compass,” said Malcolm Macleod, president of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The foundation was established by Ted and Vivian Johnson, whose friendship with Dr. Warren led to the foundation becoming a major contributor to PBAU.
His final speaking engagement on campus was in January on the first day of classes for the spring semester, university officials said.
According to the university’s written release, Dr. Warren told the students, “I’m a storyteller … 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.”
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 PBAU, “Miracles and Wonders: A Chronicle of Palm Beach Atlantic University.”
The Warrens have three daughters — Leigh, Julie, and Amy — and eight grandchildren.
The funeral service is planned for 3 p.m. Monday at Family Church Downtown at First Baptist (formerly First Baptist Church West Palm Beach). The family has requested that memorial gifts be sent to the Bebe Warren Scholarship Fund. Checks should be made out to Palm Beach Atlantic University with Bebe Warren Scholarship Fund in the subject line and mailed to the Development Office, Palm Beach Atlantic University, P.O. Box 24708, West Palm Beach, FL 33416-4708.
Staff writers Sonja Isger and Kevin Thompson contributed to this story.