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Adrian Walker

An urban pioneer

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / January 8, 2011

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Such was the esteem Vince Droser was held in by his Ashmont neighbors that many of them chose not to notice that he was a Yankees fan.

He was serving neighbors at one of his famous backyard cookouts when someone noticed that his shirt bore, ever so discreetly, the Yankees logo. Droser’s wife of 26 years, Nancy Anderson, recalled the astonishment of their guest this week. “He yelled, ‘Wait, you’re a Yankees fan?’ Vince loved baseball.’’

But that was nothing compared with his love for Ashmont, the Dorchester enclave Droser played no small role in reshaping as vice president of development at Trinity Financial, a development firm that has placed its imprint on the area.

Droser, 55, died of a heart attack Tuesday morning. He had just worked out on a rowing machine, something he did regularly. His teenage son, William, attempted CPR, without success.

Droser’s work life placed him front and center in projects that have changed the neighborhood, especially the Carruth Building, next to the new and greatly improved Ashmont MBTA station. The building he worked for years to make happen brought new housing and businesses to the area, while he worked to persuade complacent state officials to completely rebuild the neighboring station, long an eyesore and crime magnet.

“Dorchester has not fared well in the economic collapse,’’ said Jim Keefe, the president of Trinity and Droser’s close friend. “There have been too many foreclosures here. There has been an uptick in street crime that has really affected the psychology of the whole area.’’

Despite that, the neighborhood is thriving, Keefe said. “The fact that we’ve survived this difficult time is due to people seeing a lot of hope — and a little bit of the future — thanks to the work he did.’’

Droser and Anderson didn’t set out to become urban pioneers. They were both working in their native New York City, in city government, when Mayor David N. Dinkins was unseated by Rudy Giuliani. They weren’t Giuliani people, either by affiliation or political temperament. Droser moved to Boston to become chief operating officer of the Boston Housing Authority.

When they moved to Ashmont with their young family — they have four children — they quickly got to know the neighbors. The principals of Trinity, Keefe and Patrick Lee, were fellow parents at the Ashmont Nursery School. Keefe and Lee sensed the same kind of commitment to building neighborhoods that they had, and when Droser left the BHA, they immediately brought him in.

Doing neighborhood-level development is not for the impatient or the faint of heart. Defeats are frequent, and victories can take years to win. Droser quickly won a reputation as a master consensus-builder.

When I asked his wife why Dorchester meant so much to them, Anderson compared it to Brooklyn, their home borough in New York. “It’s a neighborhood of neighborhoods,’’ she said. “He could just feel it.’’ Gradually, the line between living in Dorchester and doing development in Dorchester disappeared.

Central to that was their home, which became a popular gathering place, regularly drawing friends by the dozens. “People would walk in saying, ‘This is a great house,’ and they would leave saying, ‘This is a great home,’ ’’ Anderson said.

His family held a reception Thursday night at the Foley Senior Residences in Mattapan, another project in which Droser had been instrumental, and hundreds turned out.

“Someone said to me at the wake, ‘My whole life, I wanted to be part of a neighborhood like this,’ ’’ Councilor Maureen Feeney said. “The sad part is, Vince was the heart and soul of that.’’

Earlier that day, his widow sat in their kitchen and picked up a pile of cards she had been sent by way of condolence. “I don’t know how people are finding the words to write in these cards to me,’’ she said. “He had more energy than any of us. It’s just unimaginable that he’s not here.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.