By Jill Webb
The first question Doris “Bossie” Hoben asked anyone she met was usually “what’s your sign?”
“I’m not kidding when I say I’ve actually witnessed that hundreds of times,” her niece, Julie Dennis, said.
Hoben, a long-time Bay Ridge resident, career woman, and caretaker, died on August 10th, 2022. She was 94. She loved astrology, animals, and Pinot Grigio. And she was my great aunt.
Hoben was born on February 9th, 1928 in Bay Ridge and quickly developed deep ties to the neighborhood.
“She was the only one of the five children born in the house,” her sister, Margaret Hoben, said. She just felt like she never would want to leave it.”
Hoben lived on 72nd St. in Bay Ridge for over 80 years before relocating to Port Jefferson, New York to be cared for by her niece Julie.
Early in life she got her nickname “Bossie” after a family trip to Coney Island. She was enthralled by a sideshow performer who went by Bossie.
“When they came home, she kept saying she wanted to go back and see Bossie,” Margaret said. “And that’s how it started.”
After graduating from Bay Ridge High School in 1946, she quickly started a career with AT&T in their Manhattan office.
“Most of the women at that time became secretaries and then got married. So later on in life, they didn’t have any pensions or anything,” her sister Margaret said.
Hoben was a young woman launching a career in forties when the workforce was still male-dominated. It was important to her to find a job with a pension, friendly co-workers, and union membership.
“She was very happy that she was in a union with people, that she felt that it protected her rights,” Julie said.
After work, she would go out dancing at the Lorelai or the Copacabana with her friends.
Hoben also worked a few years at a bank after around 45 years at AT&T. Her career provided her with enough financial stability to support others.
“I feel like when her father died, she felt the need to take over the position of the breadwinner,” Julie said. “And she did.”
She often spoke fondly about working after retiring.
“I think it gave her a sense of independence, freedom,” Julie said. “I don’t think she wanted to marry and have children. And I think it gave her an opportunity not to have to do that.”
That decision to not have kids may have been influenced by the death of her sister, Mary Jane, at 2 years old.
“That affected her because she watched her mother go through a very sorrowful time,” Julie said. “When I think about it now, maybe she just didn’t want to go through that in her life.”
She grew up during an era when childhood mortality was much higher than today.
“Bossie told me when she was growing up that it was not uncommon for a lot of the neighborhood children to pass away from sicknesses or accidents,” Julie said. “There was a lot of children on that street that died.
Despite not having any children of her own, she was heavily involved in helping to raise her family members.
After her shift at AT&T, she would often take the train to Jersey City to babysit her sister’s kids.
“It was only a ten minute train ride from Canal Street to Jersey City,” Margaret said.
Later in life, she did the same for her great nieces and nephews. Except this time, she was making a longer commute from Bay Ridge to Port Jefferson or Montauk.
“She was no babysitter,” Julie said, meaning that Hoben was insistent on teaching, playing, and talking with children instead of just watching them.
She not only wanted to support her family’s children, but help others in need.
“Even when she was young in her twenties, she would always go and babysit and take care of children in the (Foundling) Hospital,” Margaret said.
She was a long-time volunteer to Patrick O’Rourke. As a child, O’Rourke underwent an operation to cure his bed-wetting in 1978 that left him brain-damaged and disabled. He was local to Hoben’s area, and she helped his mother take care of him for many years. (A children’s park in Dyker Heights was named after O’Rourke in 2003).
Hoben was known for being generous. One of her sister Margaret’s earliest memories was when Hoben gifted her and her friend dresses as children.
“I remember the two dresses. One was brown with stripes and a big tallow. The other one was gray and red,” Margaret said.
Hoben loved to treat her family and friends to nights out, usually at the Paramount or Roxy theatres in Times Square.
“We would go to movies all the time over in Manhattan,” Margaret said. “We would go to all the stage shows that they had with Frank Sinatra and all the stars. We were always going out to eat in restaurants in New York.
She continued that generosity later in life with her sibling’s children.
“When my mother would take us to the post office there would be like a pink slip in the mailbox,” Julie said. They would give the pink slip to the Montauk post office clerk and receive a huge brown package wrapped from Hoben’s return address.
“Every time we opened it up, it was clothes and toys and there was always at least 15 Ichiban Oodles of Noodles soups from Brooklyn because nobody had it at the time.”
Despite being working-class herself, Hoben was always willing to open up her purse, especially to family.
“Like it really was helpful, not just to me, [but] certainly to my mother,” Julie said. “A lot of people didn’t have a lot of money and she did what she could to help us.”
Later in life, I experienced this myself. Hoben was always getting off the LIRR in Port Jefferson carrying chinese nylon totes full of toys and clothes from Bay Ridge. More often than not, she was also handing myself and my siblings 20 dollar bills to “enjoy our weekend.”
Throughout her entire life, she was a devoted advocate for Brooklyn. Mainly because of her love for Bay Ridge.
“That neighborhood literally had everything at her convenience, meaning the restaurants, nightclubs, public transportation, shopping,” Julie said. “Even as she got older, she was no way leaving there or going anywhere else because of the conveniences.”
Margaret, who also grew up in Bay Ridge, agrees: “You could go to ten different movie theaters. I mean, where else could you have that?”
Some of her favorite spots in the neighborhood were Hinsch’s ice cream parlor (now Stewart’s All American Diner), Ponte Vecchio, the Green Tea Room, and Gino’s.
“She could be seen at Gino’s Italian restaurant in Bay Ridge once a week.”
Hoben was known for riding the Staten Island ferry for fun, or hanging out on the Coney Island boardwalk – especially on Tuesday Nights for the fireworks.
“She loved going to Coney Island. That was one of her favorite things,” Margaret said.
She wasn’t just enjoying Bay Ridge, but also advocating for the neighborhood and its residents.
“Often she would frequent her local politicians [office[ in that neighborhood,” Julie said.
She had a way with being witty. When Julie asked if she was ever afraid of taking the subway alone late at night, Hoben told her “I see crazier people in the day.”
Hoben not only loved to socialize with people, but also animals.
“She loved feeding the pigeons,” Margaret said.
It was a hobby she picked up in the parks of New York City and took to Long Island.
“She was doing this for literally 50 year to the point where we had to tell her about five years ago to stop because she was throwing loaves of [my] bread out into my yard.”
It wasn’t just birds. She reminisced about her childhood dog, Chippy, and walked her great nephew Kyle’s dog Snoop multiple times a week – well into her eighties.
“She walked her entire life. She never drove,” Julie said. “I would say she definitely walked at a minimum of a mile, if not two miles a day well into her eighties.”
Her continued exercise and optimistic outlook allowed her to remain excited about life.
Part of the secret to her happiness was keeping a youthful mindset. She would always tell me, “you’re not old until you’re 103.” At 94, she was just a few years off from what she declared old age. Here’s to dying young.
She is survived by her sister Margaret, six nieces and nephews, and 10 great nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to New York City’s public parks or St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, where she was a lifelong member.