Yesterday I went to the funeral of Rhoda Brownstein, a longtime Pearce agent, who retired a number of years ago, and died this week at 88. She was so outstanding as an agent, and so iconic in the East Rock and Westville neighborhoods where she typically worked, that I felt moved to blog about what made her so special.
Rhoda came to real estate after her husband, Gerry, died young. She had moved her family into New Haven from Woodbridge, at a time when that was an unusual choice among her friends, and had been working as a research assistant at Yale. She was the first agent I hired after I came into the business, and she was the first one who thought of me as the head of the company.
Her background in psychology really helped her get a footing in her new field, as I came to realize. When she took someone on as a client, she became a combination of mother, mother confessor, social secretary, and life coach. It was common for her to have someone living in her upstairs apartment while they waited for a property to close, and even more common for her to introduce her new client and friend to everyone she thought he or she should know in New Haven (More than once, she would get so involved with someone that she would introduce the person to me, forgetting that it was I who had referred him or her to Rhoda in the first place!). She felt free to advise you on staging your old home, decorating your new home, or telling you what house was best for you to buy. She was truly a consultant before that became the new norm; information about listings, the reason people used real estate agents then, was only a small part of the service she offered.
Rhoda really picked the perfect career for someone starting over in so many ways in midlife. She gave legendary parties, particularly on New Year's Day, where all of her current and former clients mingled and met. Her customers became her friends, and filled her life with gatherings and, sometimes, great gossip. Rhoda reduced New Haven to one or two degrees of separation, and had a fluid boundary, at best, between her work and personal lives. I often thought of Rhoda when I read stories in the NY press about the grand ladies of the Upper East Side real estate market, who entertained and obtained their clients with exclusive and fabulous dinner parties.
As her career progressed, Rhoda became more of a "persona", with quirks and opinions well known to us all. She didn't like to compete or to argue, preferring to walk away from a listing rather than run the risk of losing it to someone else. Her business came to her instead by referral, often with the line "You MUST work with Rhoda". She was often indulged by other agents, especially Pearce agents, when she got on her high horse about how things should be done. I called that her Queen Mum stage, when she ruled graciously and gladly over our New Haven office flock.
We will miss her, but think of her often. We will hear her voice, heed her remembered words, and wear our pearls. It may be the end of an era, but her spirit and influence live on in all of us.
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