In this season of giving, friends wanted to share a story of Eleanor Hoy's selflessness, about her give to the community no matter what time of year — even her birthday.

Christine and Paul Sylva of Rockport had approached their dear long-time friend to see about organizing a 90th birthday party for her earlier this year.

Not wanting to draw attention to herself or receive gifts, Hoy declared "Oh, no, that is not necessary."

That was until she was informed that the party could be an opportunity to make a contribution to a local cause, such as the Rockport Public Library, an institution she has served over the years as a trustee, patron and member of the Friends of the Library.

"She told us that she didn't need a party and she didn't expect to live this long," said the Sylvas. "But when it was suggested that it could be about a group gift to benefit the library, she said, 'Well, then we can invite a lot of people' and she was happy then with the idea of a party."

More than 120 people attended the event at the Sylvas' downtown residence. Those attending included family, friends and members of organizations she has been part of, including Toad Hall Bookstore, Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce, among others.

"It turned out to be an unbelievable 90th birthday celebration. Because of Eleanor, the giving was so generous that we broke $5,000 for the library with the generous contributions from Eleanor's friends," Christine Sylva said.

Hoy said she was thrilled at the group gift and its use to help the local library.

The librarians had put together a list of books that the library wanted to purchase, from which Hoy chose books she hoped to would bought with the gift money. A book plate was placed in every book purchased from that gift stating that it was from Hoy and her friends.

The connection between Paul Sylva and Hoy goes back to the early 1980s, when Paul was part of the trio of organizers for the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. He approached Hoy, who managed Toad Hall Bookstore, to see if the shop would donate $500 to help sponsor the music festival. Hoy said she would take it to the board of the nonprofit bookstore, whose mission was dedicated to environmental causes.

"She came back to say that apparently music is ecologically sound and it makes people feel good and it's a quality of life matter for the town of Rockport. And they gave the $500," recalled Paul Sylva.

Cindy Grove, director of Rockport Public Library, said Hoy has been an integral part of the library as well as the Rockport community.

"The gifts made to the library in honor of Eleanor's birthday shows how many lives she has touched and how much the library has meant to her," Grove said. "We have a room in the library named for her already in honor of how much she has given to the Rockport Public Library. Eleanor has served on the Board of Library Trustees and as a board member of the Friends of the Rockport Public Library."

Susan Beattie first met Hoy when she moved to Rockport in 1985 as they were neighbors.

"Eleanor quickly became the expression of warm and wholehearted welcome to us as newcomers to town. I was soon to learn that she was the expression of Toad Hall Bookstore's commitment to the environment, to literature, and to the community, as well," Beattie said. "Our connection ripened into a valued friendship that continued through our years as colleagues, never competitors, in the world of books as I went on to become co-owner of The Bookstore of Gloucester while Eleanor continued as manager, and essence really, of Toad Hall. Our book-selling years are behind us, but not the affection and high regard I have for Eleanor. Her generous spirit, wonderful sense of humor, integrity, and her honest and sound judgment are a lasting gift to me."

Hoy was not the oldest person at her birthday party. Local artist Chris Pitman has nearly a decade on Hoy. Pitman turned 100 a few weeks ago, and hasn't slowed her down with her painting, volunteering and many other activities.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at

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