With her many commitments to regional causes, even when she's at home in Guilford, as shown here, Barbara Pearce considers herself a resident of Greater New Haven and says Guilford residents can lead richer lives by exploring and supporting the city's culture, arts, and other interests. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier
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Beyond Guilford: A Greater Community
Published November 26, 2014. Last updated 12:42 p.m., November 25, 2014
Pearce Encourages Exploration of New Haven's Arts, Culture
Guilford's rich fabric of residents includes none other than one of Connecticut's most involved community leaders, Barbara Pearce.
And it's because of that leadership, much of it with New Haven-based organizations, that Barbara wants to encourage her neighbors to make sure they explore the culture, arts, and many interests New Haven has to offer-and to consider what they may have to offer the greater community.
First of all-recognize the name? Barbara is president and CEO of H. Pearce Real Estate, the company that was founded by her father. She joined the company after first practicing law (Barbara graduated from Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Business School).
Barbara has chaired The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, Long Wharf Theatre, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the United Way of Greater New Haven, and the Hospital of Saint Raphael. She founded Women Organizing Women Political Action Committee (WOW). She's served on the Connecticut Real Estate Commission, the Committee to Visit Harvard College, and as campaign chair of the Greater New Haven United Way. And right now, she's chairing the Long Wharf Theatre's 50th anniversary celebration, among about 10 other commitments, including that of vice president of Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
Barbara and her husband, Norm Fleming, lived in New Haven for 20 years and in Guilford for the past 20 years (with 10 of those years overlapping). The couple has two grown children and one very exuberant yellow Labrador retriever and share a home perched over Long Island Sound on the Guilford coast.
"It's interesting: most people do the opposite-they downsize when their kids leave and move closer to a center city," says Barbara. "But it's just physically incredibly beautiful here."
Remarkably, when living in New Haven, the family lived in the first house ever designed by architect Douglas William Orr, and when they found their Guilford shoreline home, they found the last home Orr designed, built in 1948.
"We weren't looking for a Douglas Orr house," Barbara notes. "Although there were a lot of them here at one time, they've almost all been torn down. So we love it here; we think it's beautiful. But I don't really feel like a resident of Guilford; I feel like a resident of Greater New Haven. I'm always surprised at how many people who live here don't leave here. They don't go into New Haven; they don't even go to Branford."
Supporting the city can mean going in person or backing worthwhile programs, she adds.
"There's a great book called Cities without Suburbs-you can't have a strong suburb without the center city being strong," Barbara explains. "You know it really hurts Yale if New Haven's not good, but it also hurts Guilford if New Haven's not good. I actually think people want to support the arts and I think even if you don't want to go, you should support the arts."
And why not support New Haven's arts community-the city is a cultural arts gem, with places like Long Wharf Theatre and Yale University Art Gallery among its crown jewels.
"Long Wharf has had Pulitzer Prize plays three times-more than any other regional theater," notes Barbara. "Yale Art Gallery just underwent a $140 million renovation. It's free and it's open six days week-and it's supposed to be one of the finest teaching museums in the world. And New Haven has the biggest collection of free museums between Washington [D.C.] and Boston. So it's funny how many people from here go to Washington to take their kids to the museums and don't ever go to New Haven. A lot of people have been to the Peabody Museum, but probably haven't really been to the others."
Barbara is also the current chair for Artspace New Haven.
"Artspace has a gallery downtown and almost everything Artspace does is free, including city-wide open studios. And people do go to that, but I don't think as many as should, given it's the biggest event of its kind east of the Mississippi," says Barbara.
If you're wondering where Barbara gets her energy, she's a lifelong athlete who currently counts running, swimming, and yoga among her pursuits. Barbara rowed varsity lightweight cxrew for Harvard and has run marathons for years and has also competed in triathlons. She regularly runs along Guilford roadways with the Podunk Pounders. She also swims as often as possible, including morning sessions in the Sound (this year, she swam right up until the second week of November).
If she sounds a bit like superwoman, well, she kind of is. Barbara has been honored by Glamour Magazine, the Connecticut Council on Philanthropy, and Junior Achievement, among others.
"I really enjoy doing different things," says Barbara of her exceptionally busy life. "I get bored if I do the same thing all the time and I like to change things up. One of my friends said with therapy I could become a Type A! I'm high energy, I like multitasking, and I've found if you're really busy, you'll follow the rule of touch each piece of paper once-get it done right then. It takes a lot of procrastination away."
Barbara's parents were known for their philanthropy, and she's continued that tradition at H. Pearce Co. and in her life.
"We close our offices each year for a Day of Caring, which we started after 9/11. We used to do different projects in every town, but we've found we actually like assembling a whole lot of people in one place and doing a big project," says Barbara.
Work has included assistance at Columbus House of New Haven and Clifford Beers Clinic in New Haven as well as lending manpower and assistance to other worthwhile groups working to support community needs.
"My mother was on the board of Clifford Beers when I was a little kid. Those are my memories of community service-my father with United Way campaign, and my mother with Clifford Beers," says Barbara. "So it's nice to have that line run through your life."
As for encouraging others to get involved, Barbara says it's a matter of figuring out what you have to offer and then offering it-don't wait.
"I think more people should realize that your life is richer if you do more things," she says. "I think people who think they don't have time sometimes don't realize that it would give them energy and joy and they should do other things. And I think you have to be reasonable about how you can help. Would I like to be a playwright or director or something? Maybe, but my competency is running meetings and raising money. As long as you're honest and say, 'This is what I can do to help,' then you're useful."