Summer People: Larry Hohlt

Larry Hohlt — Photo by Carol Canner

Larry Hohlt is a retired lawyer from New York City. He is president of the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association. He is a summer person and the first subject of a new, weekly MVTimes series, Summer People, whose goal is to introduce readers to their summer neighbors, some of them prominent and extraordinarily accomplished, some whose lives are less exalted, all of them Islanders in their own ways. How do they describe their connections to the Vineyard and their seasonal Island neighbors? How do they describe their off-Island lives?

In a conversation last Thursday, Mr. Hohlt sat comfortably in the shade of his back porch on a sunny afternoon in Aquinnah. Mr. Hohlt, a soft-spoken man, wears glasses and a friendly smile. He chooses his words thoughtfully.

After visiting college friends on the Island more than 40 years ago, Mr. Hohlt and his wife, Barbara, began regular visits to the Island, eventually buying the property they own today. During a relaxed hour’s conversation, he looked out over Menemsha Pond toward Chilmark, admiring the same view he has enjoyed since 1981.

Has much changed in all those years?

“Sitting here you would have to say no. This view really doesn’t change… It’s a common complaint: things aren’t what they used to be,” he said, “Well, things aren’t what they used to be, but in some ways, that’s a plus. We have steadier, more sure power these days… We almost have cell service up here, not quite. We’ve got wireless. We’ve got all the accoutrements of modern-day life. In the beginning, when you came up here, you were really roughing it.”

The Hohlts’ pattern is to spend most of July and August in Aquinnah. Last Thursday, the Holhts’ son Reeve was visiting his parents with his fiancée, Melody Calvo. Mr. Hohlt explained that the two met on their mutual first day of employee orientation at Apple two years ago. The Hohlts also have a son named Jared, a senior editor at New York Magazine.

During the summer months, the Hohlts enjoy hiking at various Island reservations. Mr. Hohlt said that his wife is a great bird watcher.

Ms. Hohlt is deeply involved in anti-gun violence organizations on both the state and national level. She served as chairwoman of the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

The couple also visits occasionally during the winter. “We are way out,” he said, “There is nothing out here [in the winter]. You have to get used to driving 17 miles for your groceries. But we like it that way.”

It is not at all like Mr. Hohlt’s life as a lawyer in New York City, where he served as a representative of foreign banks.

“I usually met with very powerful, very connected people,” Mr. Hohlt recalled of his travels to Latin America, “Some of them had helicopters waiting to be taken out just in case, depending on the country. It was surreal to go to a party and see all of these extraordinarily well-dressed people with 17-year-old kids manning sub-machine guns right outside the houses.”

Some of the work Mr. Hohlt is proudest of occurred in Latin America. When governments and government-owned entities defaulted on loans, the Royal Bank of Canada, which he represented, tried to restructure the debts in ways that were fair.

“This almost always meant that the banks were going to take a lot longer to get their money,” he said, “so that these countries would have an opportunity to be able to restore themselves and to bring the poor people up and not push them further down… Is this an end-all in terms of the world? No. I wouldn’t call it noble, but it was a plus… The whole system was to make it attractive for the countries to do the right thing, and that wasn’t as easy as you might think.”

Mr. Hohlt shared his view of the origins of the current European economic crisis. “I think that (with a combination of) a lack of regulatory oversight, arrogance on the part of too many bankers, and the ease in this electronic age of very few people having access to such power over money without any oversight and in some ways encouragement to do so, it is just so easy to make horrible messes out of things… Who in the world could have imagined that the Euro would collapse the way it has?”

Mr. Hohlt has spent a significant amount of time in Europe, traveling for business to London, and for pleasure to Italy. But, he says, he always looks forward to returning to Martha’s Vineyard.

Here, he is the president of the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, a group he describes as an “unusual animal on this Island.” Established in the early 1970s as an umbrella organization to advance the interests of permanent and seasonal real estate taxpaying residents. There have been controversies, particularly the group’s involvement in legal battles with the Wampanoag tribe, although that struggle led to a settlement agreement that opened the way for federal recognition of the Wampanoag tribe. The legacy of the association’s work is influential in today’s relationship between the tribe and the town of Aquinnah.

Of his organization, Mr. Hohlt noted, “In the past seven to nine years now, we have successfully tried to become a classic community association, with one difference. We are vigilant when it comes to that settlement agreement (with the Wampanoags) and the law, to make sure they are enforced properly.

“We are continuously building our base, we are really pleased that we have a number of year-round residents and a number of tribal residents who are now loyal supporters. They support us financially, which to me is the true test.”

Contributions to the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association benefit institutions such as the Aquinnah Library and Island conservation groups.

“Do you know Moshup Trail is a unique area in the world?” Mr. Hohlt asked. “There are plants there that grow nowhere else.”

Unique also, in Mr. Hohlt’s view, is New England’s town meeting style of government. “It still works here,” he said. “Anybody who really wants to spend the time can become a player because of the size and scope of the government… There are so many people here who spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing, and it really does eat into the more enjoyable parts of life… This town is very tough, really tough — fair, but tough.”

Mr. Hohlt has an affinity for this kind of fairness. In both his work and ideals, he has striven for evenhanded regulation. Whether organizing deals for an international bank or bringing together members of the Aquinnah community, he prefers a justly arranged rhythm of life.

What might he have done if he had not gone to law school? A musician, if he had had the talent, he says. He would have liked to be a great musician, a composer. “When I think of the people I marvel at, I think of Mozart. I think of Beethoven.”