Julie Eades

The 'Common Law' approach to economic development

By Julie Eades

Former board member Chuck Leahy understood that trying new things is an essential part of building effective practices, and helped us balance structure, flexibility and immediacy.

I came back from vacation this summer to discover the sad news that Chuck Leahy had died. It was all the more unnerving and poignant because I had left myself a to-do list and "Call Chuck Leahy" was the first task.

Chuck LeahyChuck served on the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's board for seven years (1997-2004). He was a great help not just in those ways you depend on a lawyer to be attentive, but in the wonderful texture of his understated presence. His knowledge of New Hampshire was deep, so he kept us smart about all the nuances of how we could best be helpful in each of the different regions of the state.

His years on the board were a time of tremendous growth and expansion of our lending capacity (from $2 million a year to $13 million a year!). He cared about people who are left out of the mainstream and liked our pragmatic way of combining capital and know-how to open paths of opportunity for families with low incomes and for job-creating small businesses.

I also remember that Chuck worried about our name; that the word "community" might make people think we were soft, when he felt we were tough in many of the right ways.

Sometimes lawyers on a board can inhibit its responsiveness. They're trained to insist on fully developed rules and procedures, even if that means putting the brakes on catalytic action. One day Chuck said to me, "Oh, I get it, this is the Common Law approach to economic development." He understood that trying new things is an essential part of building effective practices, and he supported each of our pilot projects.

He helped us have just the right balance of structure, flexibility and immediacy to help, for example, business owners overcome obstacles to growth.

After Chuck retired from the board, he was always available with practical advice and he dependably donated to help us innovate. Chuck believed in our ability to adapt to people's needs and capacities, rather than just follow a rule.

That is one of our best qualities—a "common law" permission to find new ways to lend to more people and businesses to help them succeed.

Thank you, Chuck. We are missing you already.

Juliana Eades is President of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.