Several Bedford High School seniors and their family members took a detour on the way home from Sunday morning’s outdoor graduation to personally salute Jeff Hoyland, whose declining health precluded his covering the event with his camera – a ubiquitous feature on the students’ landscape for several years.
And there he was at his front door, acknowledging his admirers with a wave and a flicker of the outside light.
A few hours later, he succumbed to an 11-year battle with cancer.
Hoyland, who during his illness reinvented himself into an authentic local folk hero, was 59. He is survived by his wife Randi, children Alec and Sienna, his parents and six brothers and sisters.
His death engendered a massive outpouring of sadness, admiration and gratitude, primarily on social media, which was Hoyland’s constant communication vehicle.
“He didn’t want to die, but he was at peace with the fact that it was going to happen,” said longtime friend Wayne “Chip” Newman. Added another close friend, Bill Kenerson, “He said to me earlier in the year, ‘I live with cancer. I know I am going to die, but I am not going to let it run my life.’ He brought that to a lot to the people with whom he shared the journey.”
Jeffrey Hoyland was born on July 1, 1961. He graduated from Bedford High School, where he was involved in interscholastic sports and musical productions, in 1979.
Brian Milligan of Grafton said their friendship began in seventh grade and flourished when both were involved with BHS musicals. “He always had a smile on his face and was incredibly charismatic. He was incredibly popular and he accepted everybody.” Milligan recalled instances of Hoyland’s audacity, whether stomping a cigarette on stage before delivering a solo of “Too Darn Hot” in the 1979 musical “Kiss Me, Kate,” or handing roses to random women outside Faneuil Hall.
Hoyland attended the University of Florida, where he met Kenerson, before transferring to Northeastern University, earning a degree in small-business entrepreneurship. He and Randi Goldman were married in 1994, when they settled in Bedford.
Beginning in 1986, Hoyland spent 17 years on the staff of Eclipse Video Services in North Cambridge. “He was a get-up-and-go guy — a mile ahead of himself most of the time. He was very instrumental in the company’s success,” said Paul Peterson, the former owner.
At Eclipse Hoyland was involved with videography, editing, project management, and execution. “Sometimes he would stay until three or four in the morning to finish a project,” Peterson recalled. “He also acquired clients. He was a good public relations type person and clients liked him.” Hoyland moved on to DigiNovations in 2003.
Meghan Gardner, a freelance videographer, met Hoyland in the 1990s and he connected her with one of his favorite pastimes, LARP – live-action role-playing. That became the basis of her Burlington company, Guard Up and Guardian Adventures, she said.
Mike Conrad was Jeff’s supervisor at a Chelmsford firm called By Appointment Only. “In inside sales, you basically make 150 calls a day, and people say, ‘No.’ He was on a 90-day performance plan, and after 120 days he moved up to senior representative. He put it into another gear.”
“When he was first diagnosed in 2009, he didn’t want to hurt the team because that’s the kind of guy he was,” he continued. Colleagues took turns driving their friend to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for appointments. Conrad also had his head shaved in solidarity.
Hoyland coached intramural soccer and Destination Imagination tw=eams, read stories as a volunteer at Davis School, and was a member of the Community Preservation Committee in Bedford.
As the illness progressed, and Hoyland lost his ability to speak or eat normally, he turned to social media and began a sustained stream of positive energy and appreciation of life. He began sharing recipes for people who couldn’t swallow on a blog called “100 Meals Pureed – Recipes for Head and Neck Cancer Survivors.” There are almost 700 members in the group. The Facebook group “Team Good Morning,” which has well more than 900 members, showcases small acts of kindness. He was an organizer and prominent participant in Bedford’s annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
On his personal Facebook page and his groups and blogs, Hoyland often detailed his medical challenges, sometimes in hospitals, other times at home or in the community. He was completely transparent about his illness, but he never engaged in self-pity or despair. Indeed, he injected humor at every opportunity.
Hoyland refined and then shared his photographic skills. He was a fixture at school and recreation youth sports events – high school, middle school, major and minor sports, women’s and men’s, with and without a tripod. He took countless photographs, not just action shots but also captured images of musicians, spectators, parents, and siblings in the stands. He sent the pictures to the individuals pictured and posted them on his Facebook blog “Bedford Snapshots.” He even did a little sports writing for The Bedford Citizen.
“He never asked for anything. He just went about his business always careful not to intrude,” said Keith Mangan, BHS director of athletics. “I truly admire how he made it to every activity (not just athletics) and encouraged people to let him know when things were happening. I received many comments about how impressed other athletic directors were that he wouldn’t just take pictures of Bedford kids — he loved to take pictures of milestones from the opposing schools and share them.”
BHS Principal Heather Galante reflected that Hoyland “brought such joy to families and students by capturing both special and everyday moments. He was a constant at games, events and performances and Bedford High School will miss him tremendously. His memory and true Buccaneer spirit will live on in our hearts.”
Raelene Houck, who first met Hoyland when he coached their third-grade daughters’ volleyball team, said he began photographing high school volleyball and was considered a “good-luck charm,” as the girls won the league championship. Later Houck would drive him to the softball team’s away games. “He was so amazing – so inspirational in terms of what he was able to do,” she declared.
Houck and Susan DiGangi noticed that June 29, 2019 was National Camera Day, and turned it into a celebration at Sabourin Field honoring Hoyland, who had started referring to his camera in the third person, like a living entity.
“We connected with a bunch of people in town. Everyone got to say thank you, and everyone brought a picture he had taken of them. The whole place was just lined with his photos. He was thrilled that people came out,” she said. “The kids loved him. He was pretty much invited to every team dinner for the past four years.” She noted that Hoyland was named honorary captain of the 2019 sectional champion men’s soccer team.
He was also honored in February 2019 by the Bedford Chamber of Commerce for outstanding service to the community, and by the Town of Bedford as its 41st Citizen of the Year in September 2019.
Between Bedford Day and the Citizen-of-the-year ceremony, Hoyland was profiled on a two-minute WBZ-TV feature story. He spoke using a voice-generating computer program, telling reporter David Wade that this was his third bout with cancer and “I want to get as much living into the days I have left.” And with his unflagging sense of humor, he said, “Blue Cross spent a half-million dollars fixing me. I owe it to do something g positive with my life.”
(Bedford TV’s tribute to Hoyland can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMarOO0tidM)
“How lucky we were in Bedford that we had a chance to show our love,” said Recreation Director Amy Hamilton, who knew Jeff and his siblings as a BHS student. “He saw the tributes, and that was so good for him.”
“All these kids – what a great life lesson they have learned,” she continued. “Anytime they encounter disappointment, they will remember the strength facing adversity that they saw first-hand. He was so close to these kids, and hopefully it will inspire them.”
Hoyland was also a charter member of the rejuvenated Bedford Disability Commission, appointed by Town Manager Sarah Stanton several months ago. She asserted that “his contribution to the Disability Commission was always meaningful, thought-provoking, and held with the deep belief that the needs of all Bedford residents should, and must always, be considered. I will miss his infectious optimism, and his presence in our community.”
Gardner, a hospice volunteer, observed that “he exemplified the idea of creating community. He reached out and shared his journey with the community, teaching us how to navigate suffering and death.”
Newman visited Hoyland at home several days ago. “He liked talking about people’s lives – his face it up when I showed him a picture of my son. He loved BHS and would do anything for it. He also wanted to send a message to middle school students, but his typing had slowed and he never had the chance.”
Kenerson, who first met Hoyland when they were freshmen at Florida almost 41 years ago, reflected, “We all became adults together – and we were always able to laugh in dark times together. I think that’s a part of a way of looking at life and helped him live beyond what everyone expected.”
He added, “He was also very stubborn. If someone told him he had only three years left, he would surpass that and then say, ‘Oh, yeah?’”