Rosemary Heard: A ‘fearless leader’ for affordable housing 

  • Rosemary Heard of CATCH Neighborhood Housing died from a sudden illness at the age of 60. Courtesy

  • CATCH Neighborhood Housing celebrated its 25th anniversary June 17 at Bektash Shriner’s Hall in Concord. Over 200 people attended, including founding and current board members, current residents of CATCH properties, donors, volunteers, community members and friends. CATCH is a non-profit organization that provides affordable homes in Merrimack County. Supporters of CATCH who attended the gala include (from left) Susan Jouard, Senior Regional Public Affairs and Communications Advisor NeighborWorks America Northeast Region, Rosemary M. Heard, CATCH president, Joan Straussman, NeighborWorks America’s Senior Director of the Northeast Region, and Mark Ciborowski, the chairman of CATCH’s board of directors. WANT TO SEE YOUR PHOTO HERE? Email communitynews@cmonitor.com.

  • Rosemary Heard Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/13/2021 3:25:05 PM

Rosemary Heard’s Irish eyes smiled a lot.

Her mind, meanwhile, had great vision when it came to offering a nice rental apartment for someone who couldn’t afford the going rate.

She combined her role as president of CATCH Neighborhood Housing with her outgoing, supersized personality, and that’s why her death last month hit so many so hard.

Heard died from a sudden illness, her obituary reported. She was 60.

“A tremendous loss, and I could not be more sad about it,” said developer Mark Ciborowski of Concord, who formerly chaired CATCH’s board of directors. “I called her our fearless leader. She was a force of nature. She built this from a fledgling entity into a crucial organization that gave affordable housing to those who could not afford market rates.”

Heard grew up in Ireland and moved to Boston 40 years ago. She later settled in Sandwich. She brought her charm here, her accent and her homeland’s tradition for hosting big gatherings, complete with lots of food and drink.

And as its president, she guided CATCH – Concord Area Trust for Community Housing – for 16 years, aggressively searching for places to build or renovate so lower-income people could afford a home, while simultaneously eyeing community needs through other market-rate projects.

Her leadership turned the organization into a power player when it came to opening doors. Heard took the affordable housing concept and ran with it, while always looking for winning formulas for the future, before they surfaced.

CATCH now owns 325 units, and those who knew Heard said CATCH’s growth coincided with her appointment.

“She grew CATCH tenfold with the number of units we had,” Ciborowski said. “She was such a brilliant mind and a creative thinker. She could see changes that were happening in development and how that affected the development of affordable housing.”

CATCH’s stated goal is simple to understand, yet hard to reach: “Creating innovative housing solutions for low-to-moderate-income individuals and families. CATCH meets the needs of the communities it serves by constructing new affordable housing units and revitalizing existing housing.”

Under Heard’s watch, CATCH has expanded its portfolio to include housing in Penacook, Bow and Franklin. The units serve about 740 seniors, adults and children per year.

Heard’s fingerprints are everywhere. The old, once-crumbling Franklin Light and Power Mill building returned to life a couple of years ago thanks to CATCH and now boasts 45 apartments.

“Great architecture,” Ciborowski said. “They left the mill feel to it and now it has big windows, high ceilings, some woodwork. It’s an incredible project that CATCH did in the heart of downtown Franklin.”

She’s given much of the credit for the renovation of a landmark that you probably walk past often without giving it a second thought: the old Endicott Hotel, built in the late 19th century and, since 2013, open for market rate apartments.

“It’s hard to get my arms around everything she did,” said Byron Champlin, a local historian who serves on the CATCH Board of Directors.

“She was a champion for housing opportunities for people with all needs. She was a powerhouse in our region. The current vacancy rate is low in the area, and you can see how important her work has been.”

Champlin said Heard’s leadership in converting the Endicott into housing “was a significant catalyst to the renaissance in downtown Concord.”

Her role also included public relations. In other words, she sometimes had to convince residents that the CATCH renovation or construction near the their homes was worthwhile and needed.

“She would move through all the challenges,” Champlin said. “She’d explain how important housing was in the community.”

Heard’s passion for housing people of all socioeconomic backgrounds will forever be out front when building a narrative to capture her significance and spirit.

Heard, though, was also given kudos for letting her hair down now and then. With her Irish roots, that meant good times. She was funny. She loved telling the story about the old man back in the old country, who knew he was dying and secretly had a friend place a tape recorder into his coffin.

Somehow, the recorder turned on as the casket was lowered. “Hello?” came a voice from inside the coffin. “Let me out of here.”

“Rose got such a kick out of his humor,” Ciborowski said.

Ciborowski paused during our phone conversation to compose himself, explaining to me that he and Heard had a special friendship.

He said Heard hosted parties at her home. She featured big food spreads each time, and the beverages never ran low. She was, in a sense, CATCH’s morale officer, as well as its leader.

“She loved to party and have fun,” Ciborowski said. “She had a big house and she had the most incredible parties at her house in Sandwich. She’d hire a band and a couple of hundred people would come to her house.”

The interview slowed here, full of emotion. The woman named Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce had relaxing plans for the future.

Heard had built another house in her Irish hometown of Killarney. It had a little bar in a shed in the backyard, big enough for four people.

There was countryside, a lake, farms, the home for Heard and her husband to put their feet up half the year.

“She wanted to have a home back where she grew up,” Ciborowski said. “I said next time she goes to Ireland, I’d go with her.

“Sadly, that will not happen.”




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