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2023 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: John Hodge

May 3, 2023

John Hodge- Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award

In trying to tell the story of John Hodge, I find myself coming back to the concept of servant leadership. This style of leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay first published in 1970 titled “The Servant as Leader.”  Here is a brief excerpt from the homepage of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership website about what it means to practice servant leadership:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

If you know anything about John Hodge’s story, you can clearly see that nearly every word speaks to the work he has built his career on. John Hodge is the epitome of a servant leader, and that makes him a very deserving recipient of the 2023 Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award.

John began his career in housing in 1987 with the Portland Housing Authority. Peter Howe, the longtime Executive Director there, hired John after a brief 15-minute interview; John credits Peter as being a vital early mentor. Peter taught John the ins and outs of housing, and policy, but also gave some life lessons. One time in particular, John had been upset with a contractor and Peter said, ‘channel that anger into a letter’- and so John wrote one. He then asked him to put it in his desk drawer. The next day Peter asked him to read the letter once more, and John realized you never should communicate in anger- it solves nothing.

John was appointed to his current position as Executive Director of the Brunswick Housing Authority in July 1997. He was appointed the Executive Director of the Topsham Housing Authority in 2005. During his tenure with Brunswick & Topsham, he has helped to expand housing opportunities for the homeless, disabled, working families, seniors, and first-time homebuyers through various local housing initiatives.

One thing John learned early on was that the housing authority was helping many families dealing with various obstacles and issues. He recognized that it’s so easy for some people in society to diminish, blame or label families in these situations, and John knew just how unfair that was. “The struggles people have, whether that’s mental health or substance health, or anything else-that’s no reason dismiss them,” John says. Under John’s leadership, the staff makes it their job to do all they can to understand the client’s situation without judgement, so they can also help figure out how to serve them best.

“I’m motivated by doing something that is helpful- wanting to do something that is right- not recognition, not money” John says. “When you undertake a project and build some housing and you see people move into their new home...I don’t need them to thank me - I just like to know I made a difference in their life.” 

John’s been doing that his whole life- and not just with housing. When his children’s sports teams at St. John’s or Brunswick Junior High needed coaches, there was John, on the baseball diamond, the soccer pitch, or the basketball court. When Mt. Ararat was taking on the colossal task of a new high school, they needed a Chairperson for the Mt. Ararat Design Committee. Superintendent Brad Smith was more than happy to accept John who had volunteered. When the school presented the final designs in Augusta one of the Department of Education people asked what grades his children were in for the new school. They were taken aback when John said his kids had already graduated. When they asked him why he is the chairperson without a student in the school system, he said “shouldn’t everyone in our community care about quality education and not just those with students? I want every student to succeed.”

Yes, that is a servant leader, alright. 

In closing, John insisted we mention his team, who he was quick to thank and praise for their hard work. Beyond his colleagues at the housing authorities, one teammate rises above the rest and that is his wife, Theresa. John says his proudest life achievement is his marriage to Theresa in 1987 and their 3 grown children Nathan (& his wife Caroline), Connie and Eliza (& her fiancé Jon) and their granddaughter Annie!!

John has spent his career helping hundreds of families find homes, all while voluntarily leading dozens of initiatives to help our region grow. What a lifetime achievement, indeed.

Congratulations to our 2023 Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, John Hodge.

You can find John's profile video here. Video credit to Sturdy Production.

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