Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gabrielle Germaine Brard - Gabby

Alice Green Hoffman, who in 1917 bought Bogue Banks property that is now Pine Knoll Shores, had many people who worked for her. One of those was Gabrielle Germaine Brard (1908-1999). Known more familiarly as “Gabby,” she was an integral part of Alice’s life from 1931 until Alice’s death here on Bogue Banks in 1953.

Those 22 years were perhaps the most tumultuous of Alice’s colorful and eventful life. It was in that timeframe that she lost her real-estate holdings in Paris and New York, lost control of her property on Bogue Banks, and experienced declining health. The 46-year younger Gabby was with her through it all, yet research has revealed little about Gabby.

Alice wrote a 200+ page autobiography covering many events and periods of her life; however, Gabby is mentioned only once—and only in passing. In 34 boxes of material that comprise the Alice Green Hoffman Collection in the Joyner Library at East Carolina University, I detected no references to Gabby”s existence. And, thus far, I have found only one newspaper article  that mentions her.

In spite of this lack of first-hand primary material, it is possible to start sketching the outlines of a story of Gabrielle Germaine Brard from some hard administrative facts, a few personal stories by people on Bogue Banks who interacted with her, and two brief notes she wrote. We are certain Gabby was Alice Green Hoffman’s faithful secretary and friend, who spent many years on Bogue Banks interacting with people in the area.

Alice and Gabby
Alice Green was born and raised surrounded by wealth and privilege in the Gilded Age—the latter part of the 19th Century—among proper society in New York City. The 1880 census shows Alice living in her grandparent’s home on Fifth Avenue in New York City with her two sisters, her Father, Albert Green, and three servants. One of the characteristics of her social class was that a lady never travelled alone—a companion always accompanied her. Throughout her life, Alice had staff to support her, including a lady companion. At times, Alice referred to the person in that position as secretary, assistant, or her “stand-in.” Gabby was the last in a series of ladies to fill that position.

Research has identified several others. Alice mentions “Miss Curtis” when discussing events during the late 1910s and 1920s. Several other ladies are mentioned in her will, but it is unclear what positions they held— companion or housekeeper, maid, and/or cook. Gabby met Alice for the first time in 1931 and was with her for the rest of her life, perhaps longer than any of Alice’s other companions.

The circumstances around their first meeting are lost to history, but we do know it occurred in France. We can only speculate on how one went about locating a companion. Was it through a commercial service or advertisement placed in the social pages? Perhaps, she hired someone away from another lady. Was there a school for training? Apparently, the typical lady/companion arrangement involved a full-time live in, with room, board, and stipend.

Born in France
U.S. Government documents filled out by Gabby indicate she was born on April 27, 1908, in Maine-et-Loire, France. Maine-et-Loire is a départment in west-central France—the Loire River flows through it.  This départment is part of the Pays de la Loire Region of France. She identified Marcé as the specific town of her birth, a small rural village in farm country. Marcé is approximately 244 kilometers from Paris, an easy day trip by railroad to Alice’s Paris home in 1931.

Soon after their first meeting, Gabby accompanied Alice across the Atlantic on board the steamship Bremen, departing Charbourg, France, and arriving in New York Harbor on August 19, 1931. This was the first of many transatlantic crossings Gabby was to make, including one by herself in 1951 and another in 1955, two years after Alice’s death. These last two trips were probably to visit family in France.

In her unpublished autobiography, Alice wrote warmly about friends and relatives who visited her on Bogue Banks. Visits that in most cases turned out to be the only time they came to Bogue Banks. She discussed the farm managers in her employ, at times supportively and other times with great frustration. Chapters are devoted to the people involved in her financial affairs. So, while Gabby was a constant figure during the last 20 years of her life, Alice does not include any anecdotes about her. Perhaps this is reflective of Alice’s class attitude, servants are paid to do their job and are of no further consequence.

The one place in the autobiography where Gabby is mentioned concerns an event during December 1941. Three marines had been invited to the house for the Christmas holiday. Several others were in attendance, including a friend from Europe, the English ambassador to South America. Alice tells how one of the marines was upset when he heard foreign words being spoken; Alice goes on to explain parenthetically, “(Gaby & I were speaking French).”

From French citizenship to U.S. citizen
Starting in 1931 as Alice Hoffman’s companion, Gabby travelled between France and the United States. Residing at Alice’s residences in Chateau des Landes, Suresnes, France; in New York City; and on Bogue Banks, NC. In the eyes of the US Immigration Service, Gabby would have been considered an alien visiting the United States as a tourist or temporarily for business or pleasure.

The French Government confiscated Chateau des Landes in 1938. By June 1940, Paris had fallen to the invading German army. These events likely influenced Gabby to initiate her efforts to acquire U.S. citizenship.

During the 1940s, the requirements for U.S. citizenship included being from an accepted country, meeting the limitations of the national origins quota system, renouncing former allegiances—both sovereign and ideological, speaking English, having two witnesses affirming the applicant’s good moral character, and residing in the U.S. for a term of five continuous years prior to the date of petition for naturalization.  The Federal Immigration Act had established an annual quota for France of 3,085 individuals. In 1946 when Gabby was granted citizenship, only 1,554 were approved.

On April 23, 1940, Gabby and Alice returned to the U.S. via Canada. This entry into the U.S. was used by Gabby to start the five-year residency clock. She received a document from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on April 7, 1941, certifying her lawful entry to the U.S. at Rouses Point, New York, on April 23, 1940. She crossed the boarder while traveling on the D&H Railroad.  On October 14, 1942, at the U.S. District Court in New Bern, NC she filed a “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen. 

Gabrielle Germaine Brard submitted her official “Petition for Naturalization” to the District Court in Wilmington, NC, along with “Affidavit of Witnesses” on February 15, 1946. 

The Petition was Granted on April 23,1946 when Gabby raised her right hand and took the Oath of Allegiance.
Alice Hoffman’s will
Alice died on March 15th, 1953, her last Will and Testament, together with probate were recorded and filed on April 7th, 1953, in Carteret County Superior Court, North Carolina. The document, originally written in February 1948, is fairly complex with seven codicils, some of which alter parts of previous codicils. Included are numerous instances were Alice personally wrote sections that are incoherent and conflict with other parts of the document. An outstanding question remains as to whether her estate had the where-with-all to carry out her wishes. That being said, Gabrielle Brard was given special consideration in the original will.

She was to receive $10,000 as of January 27, 1948, as well as $250 for each year thereafter. The estate or trust was to provide these funds to Gabby plus an amount to cover any taxes due. “It is my desire that Gabrielle shall receive the legacy herein provided for her in its entirety and tax free. $10,000 in 1948 adjusted for inflation would be the equivalent of $101,000 in today. Three of the seven codicils address Gabby's duties under the will as well as offering her alternate payment options. One bequeaths Alice’s two pet birds to Gabby. In the body of the will, Alice expresses her appreciation for Gabby:
        "It would be quite impossible to say too much about Gabrielle’s sense of honor and integrity, as well as her properly becoming behavior. I am convinced that there does not exist a higher standard than she has lived up to since she has been with me. This bequest is in grateful recognition of her faithful service, especially since I have been unable to supervise my household myself. Her orderly and capable execution of her duties has been an invaluable asset to my health and comfort. I consider her incapable of doing anything which she or her employer could regret.”

Gabby the person
Based on the several government documents, ships’ papers, and personal remembrances, a picture of Gabby has emerged. She was 5 foot, 4 inches tall and weighed between 100 and 110 lbs. Her eyes were brown as was her hair. She identified herself as of the white race with a dark complexion and having a visibly distinctive dimple in her chin. She was multi-lingual, having completed two years of high school or the equivalent in 1920’s France. People who remember her recall she was intelligent, pleasant to talk with and generally a positive person.

In 1973, Jan Rider a journalist from Morehead City, wrote a four-part story about Alice Hoffman, which was published in the Carteret County News-Times in the summer of that year. Miss Rider conducted extensive interviews with Miss Brard as the basis for these articles. Gabby was 65 years old at the time and in good health. Gabby’s memories of her 22 years with Alice were all positive. She recalled many upbeat events in their times together and was ready to cast any negatives in a favorable light. Gabby, 20 years after Alice’s death, was still in the roll of “stand-in,” a strong advocate and surrogate for her employer.

In 1994 and again in 1998, Gabby returned to Bogue Banks to visit friends and acquaintances. One of those visits was to Mary McDonald, whose home on Oakleaf Drive stands on the location of Alice Hoffman’s former house. From those visits, Mary was able to provide several noteworthy clues about Gabby. She recalled that Gabby had a gentle French accent. She learned that Gabby was an only child and never married. At the time, she was living in Raleigh, NC.

On Gabby’s, first visit Alexandra Dworkin, Alice’s great grandniece, accompanied her to attend a celebration recognizing Alice Hoffman at the the Trinity Center. Gabrielle said, “While they were in the area she wanted to see the view again that she used to look out upon when she was living with Alice.”

Mary and Gabby exchanged Christmas cards for some years. In a card from 1995, Gabby mentioned she was in the early stages of macular degeneration.

Gabby visited again in 1998, during which she revealed that she “stayed here” after Alice’s death, but gave no indication of when she moved to Raleigh or what she did after. By the 1998 visit, her macular degeneration had advanced dramatically. She said she was taking Braille lessons as well as other instructions to help cope with her blindness. Mary recalled, “She still seemed very ‘up’ in spite of her handicap.”

Mary’s summed up her recollection from those visits, “Gabby was a friendly, warm, outgoing person who appeared to be quite contented with life, and I got the feeling that she enjoyed her time with Alice.”

A further insight from these visits with Mary MacDonald was the presence of Alexandra Dworkin. Alexandra was not only related to Alice, but also the daughter of Quentin Roosevelt, one of the four Roosevelts who assumed ownership of Pine Knoll Shores when Aunt Alice was losing her property. It is gratifying to know that the Roosevelts did not abandon Alice’s longtime companion.
Robert Flippin, a friend of the History Committee, spent the summers of his youth in a house fronting Bogue Sound across from the Hoffman place. He recalls as a young boy sailing across the sound and stopping at the Hoffman dock, seeing Alice in a wheel chair and Gabby sharing watermelon with them. When Gabby was at Mary MacDonald’s home and looked out at the sound, she mentioned that to reach deep water, “the dock was longer then.”
Post Author: Walt Zaenker, rev 5/12/2017
To contact the author or the History Committee