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BHA Founder Tory Jacobs, 1923-2011

By Natalie Brown, BHA Communications Director, Profile from BHA News, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Winter 2009

T. Sinclair Jacobs, known to all as “Tory” and to many as “Mr. Brickell,” has handed over the presidential reigns of BHA after 19 years of serving in the organization’s top office.

“It took me 19 years to find a replacement,” Mr. Jacobs joked at the BHA’s Annual Meeting in February. “But after working with Claudia Bruce in her role as vice president for several years, I know we’ve got the right person for the job. She’s both capable and committed.”

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Tory Jacobs, May 2009, in front of his condominium.

It also took this same nearly two decades for Tory to allow himself to be the feature of a BHA News “Volunteer Profile,” always suggesting others to highlight when this editor has asked for the personal interview.

He finally agreed that it seemed a fitting time to allow me to write an article about the leader behind BHA for so long as he moves from the President role to Chairman of the Board, a position, which he reminds, according to the bylaws, “has no official duties.” As his Communications Director for nearly as long as he’s been BHA president, I also think Tory figured I was as good as any to get the facts straight.

I try to find out what motivates or inspires volunteers to work in what can be thankless jobs, carrying out some pretty time-consuming, non-glamorous duties. For no pay. For little, if any, power or recognition. The most direct way to find out is to simply ask, “Why do you do it?”

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Tory at Miami City Hall in January 2002 presenting a Resolution from BHA calling for restricting contractors from usurping the sidewalks and streets. The construction boom was taking over at the risk of pedestrian safety.

For Tory, the reason for 20 years of volunteerism is simple. It’s not outrage over a particular issue. He has no specific ax to grind, no philosophical discord with “the establishment,” societal mores, or even “young kids these days.” In fact, very little gets him noticeably riled up. His answer is uncomplicated, as unassuming as Tory himself: “There were some issues that had to be addressed, otherwise decisions would be made without the input of those of us who live here. It had to be done…someone had to do it.”

So he has been an advocate for Brickell out of a sense of duty, keeping the focus on the Brickell Homeowners organization, and those individuals of BHA and what they want to see for their neighborhood. Tory believes in the adage that one gets further with honey than vinegar. He also believes one learns more by listening than by speaking. Tracing his path to here and now, it all fits. It all makes Tory.

Tory is unmistakably southern, not having lost his southern drawl or his southern charm. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, he was born, where else, but on the city’s most prominent roadway, Peachtree Street. His family owned a chain of drug stores, and he grew up in the tony Buckhead area. Tory enjoyed all the mundane yet sublime rites of childhood: boy scouts, summer camp, family fun.

College began at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, followed with a degree from the Emory University School of Business, and soon after graduation, a Naval commission serving aboard ships in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and South Pacific. Tory served in active duty in WWII from 1943 to 1946, which was a time of great adventure, he admits, for young men like him eager to see the world and do good. But it wasn’t without times of dire fear either. More than once he thought he was a goner.

After the war ended, Tory returned to Atlanta, and his career turned to business. He worked in sales and advertising, eventually landing in New York City and handling large national accounts at BBDO. It was an exciting time for advertising, which was finding a home in the new medium of television during its golden years. New mass audiences appreciated commercials, sponsors and popular game shows like “The $64,000 Question” where some of Tory’s clients advertised.

In 1976, Tory migrated, as have scores of New Yorkers before and since, to Miami, lured by an attractive job offer. He found he loved the warm climate and all readily available to do.

“In New York, you had to travel to your weekend; in Miami, it’s all outside your door,” he explained.

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BHA President Tory Jacobs at podium at Miami City Commission meeting in 2007 while Commissioner Sarnoff presents the Emergency Ordinance, five years in the making, that restricted contractors from blocking streets and sidewalks. Finally a commissioner was in place who responded to neighborhood concerns and didn’t bow to developers’ every demand.

Tory worked for General Development Corp (a.k.a. GDC), which was the largest community development company in Florida for a time. In 1985, he became his own boss, forming Bankers Financial Corporation, dedicated to managing investments for institutional clients.

Tory’s first home was at 1865 Brickell Avenue, in Brickell Place I. In 1981 he moved to Brickell 25, a 37-unit building on 25th Road overlooking Biscayne Bay, where he still resides. It was here that Tory met Attorney Henry Taylor, who convinced him that residents needed to be proactive rather than reactive, and that a homeowners group of all the neighborhood condo owners could get a lot further at City Hall than just the few of them.

Henry Taylor’s law firm drew up all the legal paperwork needed to form BHA, which was formally incorporated in 1990. Tory was the natural choice as its first president, a job that stuck. Among the early battles were preventing a low-cost housing development on Brickell, reducing jet ski noise and safeguarding against commercial encroachment.

Tory still works, connecting ambitious entrepreneurs with the right franchise to match their goals. Even as an octogenarian, he keeps working, he said, because he enjoys it, it keeps him young, and also, he half-jokes, to “maintain the standard of living to which I’ve grown accustomed.”

That standard includes fine wine and food and at least once-a-year travel to a far-off destination, along with his partner of 23 years, Jo Ann O’Neill. They count more countries visited together than the many years they’ve been a couple, with their most recent “journey of discovery” a cruise of the Danube, with stops in most of the 10 countries bordering it.

Fittingly, Tory has long been a member of the International Food & Wine Society, having served on its board of governors. He was a member and officer of the Committee of 100, Miami Beach’s group of prominent community leaders begun in 1925 by Northern and Midwestern industrialists making their winter home in Miami. No longer filling the power void it once found in South Florida, the organization now meets as a subgroup of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, keeper of its rich archives.

Tory has long been a box holder for the annual Sony Ericsson Open on Key Biscayne since back when it was the Lipton. A tennis player himself, he enjoys as many of the matches as his schedule will allow. He is active in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce as a Trustee, representing BHA on the New World Center Committee. He serves on the “MOV’N” Traffic Task Force sponsored by the county, and is in regular communication with public officials to resolve concerns important to the neighborhood. He stays with issues on behalf of BHA as long as it takes, some never-ending and some resolved, only to later resurface in need of re-fixing. Some never get satisfactorily resolved.

Tory and other Brickell residents formed the Brickell Neighborhood Political Action Committee in 1997 to address ongoing situations where the will and rights of neighbors were ignored. (Remember “Sly-Gate,” union meetings on Brickell and the proposed “health clinic”?)

“The PAC could give representation for many residents of the Brickell neighborhood who were certainly stakeholders, but were not eligible to vote due to citizenship,” Tory recounts. With a mission to support causes and candidates that align with Brickell neighborhood concerns, through PAC endorsements and financial contributions, “those residents could have a voice.”

The PAC did prove to be more effective getting the attention of City Hall, and continues its work when important elections or issues come before Brickell voters. It will be active no doubt, in the upcoming mayoral race for City of Miami.

The most troubling part of his experience as a volunteer advocate for the neighborhood, Tory said, is the slow, unresponsiveness of City of Miami elected and career personnel who often seem to lack the commitment to get projects done, and done right, in a timely manner. But, always the seeker of balance and fairness, Tory also recognizes the huge challenge our municipalities and their public officials face in meeting the needs of so many diverse constituents.

Overall, for Miami, Tory remains, naturally optimistic. He thinks Miami can overcome her challenges, achieve her potential to be one of the world’s great cities. It’s only a matter of leadership. “Someone has to do it.”

Tory died March 26, 2011, in Miami, Florida.

Obituary: T. Sinclair (Tory) Jacobs

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T. Sinclair “Tory” Jacobs, 2007

T. Sinclair Jacobs, known to all as “Tory” and to many as “Mr. Brickell,” died March 26 in his home after a two-year battle with cancer. Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in the Buckhead area, he attended college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, followed with a degree from the Emory University School of Business. He served a WWII Naval commission aboard ships in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and South Pacific from 1943 to 1946.

After the war, Tory returned to Atlanta, and his career turned to business. He worked in sales and advertising, eventually landing in New York City and handling large national accounts at BBDO. This Golden Age of Television was an exciting time for advertising, and Tory was involved in commercials for major clients on popular game shows like “The $64,000 Question.”

In 1976, Tory migrated to Miami, lured by an attractive job offer. He found he loved the warm climate and all readily available to do. Weekends were “right outside your door.”

Tory worked for General Development Corp (a.k.a. GDC), which was the largest land development company in Florida for a time. In 1985, he became his own boss, forming Bankers Financial Corporation, dedicated to managing investments for institutional clients.

Tory lived in the Brickell Avenue area up until just one year ago when he moved to Miami Beach to be closer to his long-time partner, Jo Ann O’Neill. For 30 years he lived at Brickell 25, a 37-unit building on 25th Road overlooking Biscayne Bay. It was here that Tory met Attorney Henry Taylor. Together they realized that residents needed to be proactive rather than reactive, and that a homeowners group of all the neighborhood condo owners could get a lot further at City Hall than just the few of them.

Brickell Homeowners Association was formally incorporated in 1990. Tory was the natural choice as its first president, a volunteer job that stuck for two decades. Among the early battles were preventing a low-cost housing development on Brickell, a Greyhound bus station at the Metrorail station, restricting jet ski noise and safeguarding against commercial encroachment.

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Tory Jacobs in front of the sign on SE 25th Road named in his honor, Nov. 2009.

Along with being Brickell’s #1 advocate, Tory was a long-standing Board member of the business group, Brickell Area Association. He was a member of the International Food & Wine Society, where he served on its board of governors. He was a member and officer of the Committee of 100, was active in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce as a Trustee and represented BHA on the New World Center Committee. Tory led the formation of the Brickell Neighborhood Political Action Committee in 1997 to address situations where the will and rights of neighbors were ignored. The PAC gave a voice, he always said, to those residents not registered to vote in Miami. He remained a champion of his beloved Brickell Avenue, and Miami, always envisioning a great future for the city. His street, Southeast 25th Road from Brickell Avenue to Biscayne Bay was named after him in 2009 in recognition of his years of volunteer leadership.

Tory is survived by his loving daughter Linda Jacobs of Minneapolis; devoted partner, Jo Ann O’Neill, and her children and grandchildren: Bridget and Craig Schmitz and their sons Connor and Kellen; Patrick and Dianne O’Neill and daughter Casey of Charleston, S.C.; Brian and Olga O’Neill of Miami; Erin O’Neil of Paris, France; and half brother Jeffrey Fleisher of Massachusetts.

A celebration of Tory’s life will be held Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 4:00 p.m. at the Surf Club in Miami Beach.