Meeting Gail Hobin you feel immediately engaged. Maybe it’s her wide welcoming smile. Maybe it’s because she easily directs conversation toward your interests. Whatever it is that made her successful as a liaison between UMass and the Boston area, Gail Hobin finds excitement in knowing people.
“She just has a passion,” said Terry Mortimer, the Assistant Chancellor of UMass Boston. “It’s not like work for her. She simply enjoys bringing town and gown together, and she doesn’t even think about it as town and gown.”
As one of her last acts in the role of Assistant Vice Chancellor of Community Relations, Hobin brought a Medal of Honor recipient to speak at UMass Boston. A picture from the event circulated online, and one of the veteran’s parents recognized Hobin as a frequent customer.
“Here’s a girl, total stranger to me,” Hobin said. “But her mother works in a local restaurant in South Boston, the best Italian food ever, which I adore. I thought it was so cool that there was that connection so it’s been very fulfilling, and very hard to make the decision to go.”
After 31 years at UMass Boston, Hobin is ready for retirement. At 65 she wants to spend time with her grand children and travel. The late night meetings, and weekend ribbon cuttings are starting to drain her vast energy.
“It’s not a 9-5 job, and as much as I loved it it was time,” she said. “The good thing is I’m allowed to wean myself away. I’m very proud to represent the university, the Chancellor.”
As the face for UMass Boston in the community, Hobin sits on boards and attends civic association meetings all over Boston and in surrounding communities like Quincy, Malden, Brockton and Revere. Now she works a few days each week to ensure a smooth transition as Phil Carver takes over her position.
“We’re just letting folks know that even though there’s going to be a change in the leadership team that the university will still honor our commitment to them.”
Growing up in Savin Hill, where her father owned a hardware store, Hobin used to swim in the cove and explore the peninsula before UMass Boston existed.
“I remember when there was a mall here. Often times if I’m sitting around a table and people say well what are we going to do, maybe we’ll put a mall, or maybe we’ll do this or that, and I kind of sit there and kind of go, been there, done that.”
She watched Columbia Point develop from afar. She attended Saint Williams, and then Mount Saint Joseph for high school.
“In the 70s, newly married, having babies, I figured it was nice that the university was coming to the neighborhood.”
She had two boys, one at BC High, the other in middle school when she became a single mom. She needed a job close to home, and UMass Boston hired her as a receptionist in the College of Management in December of 1984.
“I was like a sponge. Everything that came by my desk, I wanted to know about it, and I decided to get my undergraduate degree because I did not have college education, and I moved up slowly.”
She became the administrative assistant to the Dean of the College of Management, Artie Weinstein.
“I loved my classes. I loved the diversity. Sometimes I might have been the oldest one, but I thought it was such a kick to look when I was in my forties and there was a 60 year old there.”
Two different jobs opened after she graduated, a Director of Special Events, and a Director of Community Relations. Her boss put her name in for both positions, and she did both jobs for years, running eighteen commencements and countless galas and events on and off campus.
The first commencement she organized in 1990, Hobin had the thrill of robing Robert Redford, who was awarded an honorary doctorate in Environmental Science.
“I was like oh my god I’m doing this, so I had the opportunity to meet some fabulous people throughout the years, worked with wonderful boards of trustees.”
As she met luminaries like Steven Tyler, Tim Russert, and the Queen of Sweden. She also sought out talent from the Dorchester. Donna Summers performed for donors at the Kennedy Library, and Dennis Lehane gave the commencement address in 2004.
“I met some wonderful people, people who give their heart and soul for their community, who lead and head up civic associations, and who care about street lights, and things that most people wouldn’t fight for or the heights of buildings and the how does this affect the quality of our neighborhood. They get feisty sometimes, yes, but that’s what you gotta love about them.”
At community meetings Hobin sometimes found herself dancing around competing interests and concerns, but in the end she would shake hands, kiss cheeks, and keep stoking friendships.
“These are people I grew up with and I know, and people that I became friends with, so there was a way that we respected each other’s differences on any topic or issue and I never walked away. I can honestly say never ever did I walk away from anybody through all these years and say that’s it for me, you’re off my list.”
On her retirement two weeks ago, the Chancellor gave her the Shining Beacon Award for her shining personality, which kept relations between the school and the community cordial.
“At the end of the day, when you walk away from an issue there are other things that connect you, and I will miss that interaction with the community, the friendship, even some of the challenges.”