“I let it be known that the staff should feel free to greet my return to the center by singing ‘Hello Dolly,” said Robert Boo. Only a Broadway show queen with a heart for people, a head for management and a long resume of success could pull off a line like that.
Robert Boo is that kind of guy, and the Pride Center of South Florida is fortunate that he has returned as its new executive director. Boo had been the center’s director of development for five years before being lured back to his earlier career in corporate management. When the center’s Paul Hyman left in March to become the director of New York City’s Stonewall Community Foundation, replacing him with a man who had a big part in the successful move of the center into its expansive Wilton Manors campus meant a seamless transition.
With a personality as buoyant and light-hearted as a bunch of party balloons, Boo’s casual and confident manner is a refreshing surprise. He has navigated his life with a mixture of vision, skill and success that often makes a man like him reserved and also inaccessible to LGBT organizations that cannot afford that level of leadership. He grew up in a rural northern Indiana town of corn and soybean farmers.
“The population was 2,000 if you included the mental hospital,” he says. He knew from an early age that small town ways would never be his.
“I was attracted to the other boys in my class. I’d give you their names, but they’re still there. I went from a high school senior class of 45 to a Purdue college class of 2,000. That is where I had my first gay experience. The dean of the school of mathematics picked me up and took me home. Frightening. I felt like Shirley MacLaine floating outside my body and watching what he was doing to me. I was so scared by the whole experience that I went back into the closet for two years,” he says.
Boo’s description of his work life is a lesson in location strategy. After eight years in Chicago, he learned the power of whining and cajoling his employers to move him to the cities that attracted him, including Miami Beach and New Orleans. A stint in San Diego left him without much love for the west coast. His heart was in South Florida.
Boo recalls, “Right after college where I studied institutional management, Aramark hired me, and then their competitor Sodexo hired me, and eventually Aramark lured me back with the right offer—Fort Lauderdale. I had decided never to spend another winter north of the Mason-Dixon. That was nine years ago. A few years in, I had my midlife crisis, and I knew there had to be more to life than saving millions of dollars for these large corporations. Still, it took my friend Paul Hyman five months to convince me to become director of development at the old Pride Center. It was a mess. I joined Paul’s team because he had this dream of building a new center. Paul had come into a failing organization and worked hard to transform it. His team accomplished so much in my five years there. Who knew that this little organization would be able to buy this five-acre campus? There were other developers that wanted the site but couldn’t put it together. Northern Trust stepped up to help us. They were the only bank that stuck with us and gave us the financing. "
In addition to growing the already impressive list of programs at the center, Boo has very specific plans in one area.
“We need to get more women involved in the center. We just launched our ‘Women With Pride’ initiative in conjunction with ‘Women-In-Network.’ Over 150 came to the kick-off. When we used to be called the GLCC, I used to say we needed to put the L back into it. One of my top priorities is to make sure women feel welcomed here. Four years ago we had a dream to get out of Andrews Avenue. Now I have a new dream. Right now we have one office dedicated to women, why not have one whole building dedicated to services for women?” The general consensus is that Boo can accomplish this and any other goal he sets for the Pride Center.
When asked about his unusual last name, he says, “It’s Swedish and no, it’s not an Ellis Island shortening of something like Boorstein. My friends call me Boo. In New Orleans, it’s a term of endearment. Whenever I heard people say ‘Hey Boo.’ I used to think they were talking to me.” At the Pride Center, ‘Boo’ is very definitely a term of endearment, and given the 51-year-old’s emphatic promise to stay put in the place he calls home, he will be our ‘Boo’ for a long time to come.
Robert Boo encourages you to tour the Pride Center at 2040 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Call 954 463-9005 or visit GLCCsf.org for more information.