We take great pride in the small role we played to help bring Brookline Local First to our Brookline. Our publication was founded 7 years ago, in part, to support the great work of Brookline's local, independent, business community. We have taken time also applaud the few non-independent businesses that have gone out of their way to support their independent neighbors. Case in point, Sharad Chand and his predecessor Cathy O'Brien of Brookline Courtyard Marriott, who time and time again have assisted Brookline independent businesses members of our beloved Coolidge Corner Merchants Association and great many local non-profits.
Last year, Adam Mitchell, Town Meeting Member and owner of Save That Stuff introduced me to the founder of the Sustainable Business Network and the Local First movement, Laury Hammel. Laury helped a group of us form Brookline Local First. Our parent company, Advanced Digital Websites, Inc. provided the organization with the logo you see now on those big 9" stickers all over town and the BLF website.
We feel it's important for the public to know just a little bit about the type of people who make up an organization. Brookline Local First elected as its first Chairperson, Chobee Hoy of Chobee Hoy Associates Real Estate. In January of 2011, we published a piece about Chobee that bears relevance now, and are reprinting it below. This should tell you a lot about what makes the most recognizable businessperson in Brookline tick.
Chobee chairs the Steering Committee comprised of some All-Stars of the Brookline business community, including Dana Brigham of Brookline Booksmith, Abe Faber of Clear Flour Bread, Lucia Berman-Rossi of Tiny Hanger, Terry Meyers of Cause to Paws, Elaine Joseph of Bank of Canton, Attorney Susan Howards, Sheila Selby of On The Move Interiors, Adam Mitchell of Save that Stuff, Elle Dunford of Kookoos Cafe, and me;)
By R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher
Like many successful women, Chobee Hoy is a lot of things. If you are a resident of greater Boston, you know who she is even if you've never met. The woman should teach a course on how to brand yourself.
Chobee Hoy is equal parts businesswoman, humanitarian, mother, grandmother and role model. She gives her money, her name and her time to just about every cause she believes in. Her beauty is that she's made "giving" her calling card on the road to business success. It's one thing to earn the American Dream; it's quite another to know what to do with it. Though some might find her influence intimidating, those who know her find her funny, effortlessly charming, self-effacing, kind, sensitive, and accessible.
An Early Foundation in Service
Chobee Hoy was born in Charleston, WV in 1932. She grew up there and just outside of St. Petersburg, Fla. That's where her southern charm originates. She went to Vermont Jr. College, and then moved back to Florida to marry her high school sweetheart. He was the quarterback and captain of the football team and Chobee was a cheerleader; just like in the movies. She had three children - Deacon, Gil and Tracy - and later, eight grandchildren.
When her children were in grade school, Chobee volunteered at Boston State Hospital and her husband worked as a professor at Boston University. She was eventually employed by the hospital to lead groups of volunteers. This was at a time state mental hospitals didn't receive the attention they hopefully receive now. As Chobee put it, "They didn't take good care of it. The funding wasn't there, and it was a sorry place". At one point, because the hospital was so understaffed, they actually had her seeing patients even though she didn't have a degree. As crazy as that sounds, I bet she was good at it.
Chobee worked almost her whole life in service of those in need. She volunteered in high school and junior college, taking after her mom who was also a volunteer. Volunteerism was part of her family's culture.
After her divorce, Chobee knew she needed to make more than what the state mental hospital system could offer. As with most single parents, there never seemed to be enough money. A good friend got her a job training Girl Scout leaders that enabled her to provide for her family.
Her children all earned undergraduate degrees from BU free of charge because of their Dad's position there. One day though, Chobee's oldest, Gil, announced he wanted to go to graduate school. Chobee realized working for the Girl Scouts was no longer going to cut it.
Enter The Entrepreneur
Nothing turns an ordinary person into a businessperson like having to pay a mortgage and graduate school tuition. Chobee became a real estate agent, first in Brighton and then Brookline. She then teamed up with two other agents to form their own office. Like many partnerships of people taking their first crack at running a business, this one eventually failed after 3-4 years. Chobee remembered "I always wanted to take chances, like spending more money than we had. One day I decided I didn't want to argue about it anymore". This happens a lot in business. Friends get together to start a venture, but it takes a true entrepreneur to deal with the risk and uncertainty of running your own company. Chobee continued, "I just wanted to do it without spending so much energy talking my partners into doing what I wanted to do". Her partners both went off to have successful careers for other companies. Chobee, the true entrepreneur of the group, never worked for anyone else again.
In 1990, at the age of 58, she founded Chobee Hoy Associates Real Estate Inc. Almost everything the public knows about Chobee, she accomplished after the age of 58. Life begins and begins and begins.
Service As a Way of Doing Business
Like Chobee, her company served the community from day one. Chobee never put the cart before the horse when it came to benefiting professionally from non-profit work. The "cause" always came first. As Chobee puts it, "It's wonderful to be recognized and receive benefits from doing good things, but that can't be your primary reason because it won't work. You won't be able to sustain your enthusiasm. It's a benefit that your business also benefits, but it usually is something that's not planned." Spoken by a true giver. That's how it works when you see your business as an opportunity to help those who need it.
When asked which cause among the dozens she has worked tirelessly for effected her the most, Chobee replied, "The thing that is number one with me would be the disenfranchised; young people, old people, all the people in between, people afflicted with lack of education, mental illness, poverty and everything that is connected to that. Everyone having access to a good education, food.… " Chobee couldn't finish. There is something life affirming in seeing a devoted person break down at the thought of those who have lost hope. It matters to the rest of us when the strong care. Forgive the double negatives but people like Chobee can't not help those in trouble. She's wired to do what she knows she can do - help. She became an entrepreneur because she couldn't not own her own business. She became a philanthropist and a volunteer because she couldn't not do that.
Chobee laughs at the thought that she is an institution in Brookline. "My life is like a circle, not two parallel lines. There is the businessperson, the giving person, the mother, the grandmother, and the person who isn't always nice. Sometimes I don't know where one ends and the other begins. Real estate has helped because it's allowed me to earn a living and support my passions. I love real estate because it's a people thing. I also love it because if you work hard, give great service and you are lucky, the sky's the limit."
Decades of Service to the Community
There are more non-profit boards and committees in Brookline than there are banks, believe it or not, and much to our credit. There is nothing more political than a volunteer board or committee. It's the perfect storm of passions, egos, talent, sleep-deprived individualists, and all sorts of human sensitivities and inner turmoil gathered around a table either way too early in the morning or way too late at night. Just imagine putting a group of people who earned their success by taking matters into their own hands all in one room.
Chobee has served on just about every important committee for the last 20 years. Not including the scores of causes to which she has contributed, Chobee served on the Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation, Brookline Arts Center, Brookline Preservation Committee, Brookline Council for the Arts and Humanities, the 21st Century Fund, Brookline Education Foundation, Brookline Community Mental Health Center, Brookline Rotary, Brookline Adult and Community Education, Sister City, Green Space Alliance, CCAB Ecology Team, and the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. Chobee was also just chosen to serve on the Board of Directors of the Brookline Teen Centerand the Nomination Committee for the Brookline Hub Youth Awards. It is quite conceivable that we missed more than one committee or board; it's hard to keep up with this woman.
At the Core of It All
Brookline is Real Estate Prime Time. There are a lot of brokers and agents competing to be the best. I honestly don't know who is on the top of that heap, but everyone in the top 10 keeps a keen eye on what Chobee is doing.
I asked Chobee how she deals with jealousy and pushing forward her agendas in the worlds of "getting ahead in business" and "decision by committee". Chobee confided "One-ups-manship is a people problem, not a Brookline problem. It's the reason for wars and conflicts all over the world. It's an 'I have to be the top dog' thing. I've done it myself and I hate it when I do it. I read something recently that really resonated with me, 'My strength is in my defenselessness.' It's hard, but if we can just keep remembering that. It's easy to be humble when everyone likes you, but it's harder when people start questioning you. You have to remember who you are and just got to keep doing what you're doing."
At 78, Chobee is going to keep on doing what she's been doing for a long time to come. She's Chobee Hoy, what else can she do? We wouldn't want her any other way.
R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher