Barbara Boch never needed an excuse to gather her family close, but Christmas was always a time for her to revisit traditions and create new memories for her four children, 10 grandchildren, their spouses and close friends.
“Every holiday was a big deal for her, especially Christmas,” said her daughter Karen Clemmey of Wrentham. “She would start getting ready a year before — not just with the presents, but the decorations, the lights, the greenery.”
The family’s Edgartown vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard “was always decorated to the nines. The Christmas tree was gorgeous. Nobody did ornaments like she did,” said Mrs. Boch’s daughter Donna of Westwood.
All those holiday preparations, they said, were in service of what Mrs. Boch held most dear. “Family was her biggest achievement,” Karen said, “and she always wanted to make sure the family was together — the kids, the grandkids.”
Mrs. Boch, whose health had been failing, died Wednesday in the Norwood house that had been her home for nearly 60 years. She was 86.
When her husband, Ernie Boch, died in 2003 they had been married for 50 years. He had built a string of auto dealerships into an empire and became an iconic TV presence, calling out “come on down” in a series of advertisements. Mrs. Boch, meanwhile was the steady presence behind the exuberant man in the ads.
In a Globe Q&A about offering good advice for handling finances, Mr. Boch said in 2000 that he routinely turned the bill-paying over to his wife. “She’s the organized one,” he said.
“In most cases, if you find a strong guy, there’s an even stronger woman behind him, and that was the case with my mother,” said her son, Ernie Boch Jr. of Norwood, who has sold most of the Boch dealerships, except for Ferrari and Maserati, but remains the spokesman for Boch Enterprises.
“My father was a well-known powerful guy, but my mother was always there – as strong if not stronger, especially at the beginning,” he said. “My father would be gone 16, 18 hours a day. She had to hold down the fort. She was that type of woman.”
Mrs. Boch “was a doer and a sayer, not meek or mild at all,” Karen said. “She was funny and she wasn’t afraid to have an opinion. You knew where you stood with her.”
At the family’s homes in Norwood and on the Vineyard “she was definitely a matriarch,” Karen added. “She took care of people — whether it was our father, us, the grandkids. She had a need to take care of people, even her friends. She was very private with family, but when it came to her friends or friends of ours, she would welcome them as her own.”
As philanthropists, Mrs. Boch and her husband gave away millions, notably to arts organizations. In their house with its commanding views of Edgartown Harbor, the Boch family has also hosted picnics for Camp Jabberwocky, the summer camp on the Vineyard for people with disabilities, and Water Tasting by the Sea fund-raisers for Vineyard House, a sober living center.
Mrs. Boch was closely involved with nearly every aspect of designing the family’s expansive Vineyard home, which provided a respite from the years of work and long hours that went into building the Boch car dealership chain. It was a place, she told the Globe in 1989, where her family could “live in peace.”
The oldest of three children, Barbara Ann Lyons was born in Boston and grew up in Jamaica Plain. Her father, Walter Lyons, was a bartender. Her mother, the former Dorothy Prouty, was a homemaker.
Mrs. Boch graduated in 1948 from Jamaica Plain High School and was working as a teller at New England Merchants National Bank when she met Ernie Boch. “They struck up a friendship and then they struck up a relationship,” their son said.
Much of her time in the ensuing years was devoted to raising their four children and assisting with activities connected to their lives — the PTA, school libraries and music programs, and the swim team. “My father worked a lot and she was a hands-on mom — no nannies,” Karen said.
Mrs. Boch also helped run fund-raisers and served as a leader for local Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scout troops.
“She was very loving and she always wanted to know about our lives,” Donna said. “Whenever we got home from school, she’d ask, ‘How was your day?’ She wanted to know the latest gossip.”
To her husband’s growing business Mrs. Boch applied the office expertise she had honed in her bank teller days. “I remember there’d be files and files, folders and folders on the table, and we would help her alphabetize them,” Karen said. Mrs. Boch also edited the grammar and spelling in her husband’s work material and her children’s school essays. “Usually, you’re either better at math or better at English,” Karen said. “She was good at both.”
Amid the daily upheaval of children and school and her husband’s long hours, Mrs. Boch insisted that the family sit down together every evening for dinner. “And everything was set up beautifully,” Karen said. “She was very elegant, and etiquette was a big deal to her.”
Over the years, Mrs. Boch befriended some of her children’s friends as well, welcoming them into family traditions and into her home.
“My girlfriend Maureen came to the Vineyard to visit,” Donna said, recalling a visit some 15 years ago. “She was only going to stay two days with her daughter, and she ended up staying a week and a half because she was having so much fun with my mom. Maureen still talks about that to this day.”
In addition to her son, two daughters, and 10 grandchildren, Mrs. Boch leaves her daughter Beth Joyce of San Diego; a brother, Robert Lyons of Valrico, Fla.; and three stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage, Tina, Pamela Buzzell, and Dale.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday in St. Catherine of Siena Church in Norwood.
Mrs. Boch had long made her principal home with her husband in Norwood and she “died in the house that they built in 1958,” her son said. “When my mother died, she was there surrounded by her children and everybody who loved her.”
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