In 1994, Gilbert Hoffman and his wife Mei-ing bought the Highlands Star – Crosby Courier, fulfilling one of Gilbert’s lifelong dreams: to own a newspaper. This also marked the beginning of what would become a small publishing conglomerate, serving the greater Houston area with community papers such as the Star-Courier, Northeast News, and North Channel Star.
This week, Gilbert celebrates his 80th birthday. Upon such a significant milestone, it is worth looking back on his remarkable life, family, adventures, and many careers.
Born in Oklahoma, Gilbert moved to Pennsylvania at a young age and grew up in New Castle, a town just north of Pittsburgh. Even as a boy, he was interested in printing presses and newspapers. His sister, Cheryl Massie, recalls Gilbert putting her to work, along with their brother Richard. The two younger siblings had to collect news from around their neighborhood, which Gilbert would write up into stories that he typeset and printed on a small letterpress in their basement. Then he sent Cheryl and Richard back out to deliver these bulletins.
Their father was an architect, and both Gilbert and Richard followed in his footsteps. In his teens, Gilbert worked as a draftsman at the W.G. Eckles Company, which started as a small local practice but is now known as the Eckles Group and remains one of the 50 oldest architecture firms in the country.
Upon graduating high school, Gilbert married his girlfriend Carol, and they had their first daughter, Susan. Thus began a new chapter in his life as husband, father, and college student.
After graduating from Carnegie Tech with his Bachelor’s degree in architecture, and the University of Pennsylvania with his Master’s, Gilbert was employed at a series of firms in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He gained experience and climbed the ladder, from draftsman to model builder to designer to project architect. Then he relocated to New Haven to work under esteemed architects such as Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, and Charles W. Moore. The projects he worked on ranged from hospital facilities to airport terminals, university buildings to pedestrian malls.
He also taught a few undergraduate courses at Yale University.
During these same years, Gilbert’s young family grew. He and Carol welcomed another daughter, Trisha. They took the girls sailing — another of Gilbert’s passions, though he was hardly an expert. Trisha can still remember the terror she felt as a girl when their boat would keel so strongly that water nearly came in over the side.
Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, and after the divorce, Carol and the girls moved to Phoenix to be near her parents.
Gilbert returned to New Castle for a while, then was hired by 3D International, a large architectural firm in Houston. There, he had the privilege of traveling all over the world for his work. Among the more dazzling of his assignments:
- An office building in Singapore
- A corporate headquarters in South Africa
- A conference and exhibition complex in Malaysia
- A five-story palace/office in Qatar
- An entire town in Saudi Arabia (i.e., schools, police station, mosques, housing, etc.)
Whenever possible, Gilbert took advantage of these grand travels to do some sightseeing as well. He was able to dip his toes in the Red Sea, visit the Eiffel Tower and Moulin Rouge, see the Pope, tour Kruger Game Park, spend a day at Machu Picchu, and even enter King Tut’s tomb.
Also working at 3DI at this time was Mei-ing Liu, an architect from Taiwan who had graduated from “Penn” too. While everyone else thought that meant Penn State, Gilbert recognized his alma mater and introduced himself. They started dating, and once again, a new chapter unfolded.
Despite a healthy career in architecture, Gilbert still itched to pursue his other passions.
In 1984, newly married, Gilbert and Mei-ing decided to purchase a one-man print shop from an owner-operator who was ready to retire. They named their new company Grafikshop and quickly set about expanding the business. Their daughter Kristan was born soon after, and her childhood was spent playing happily among the printing presses. She drew pictures on paper samples and made dollhouses out of empty shipping containers.
Meanwhile, Gilbert continued to practice architecture both as a consultant and independently. He and Mei-ing established their own agency, Hoffman-Liu Design Associates.
Through the printing operations, Gilbert learned of a community paper for sale, and somehow convinced his wife to let him buy it. Ever since then, he has devoted his days to covering the news in several Houston area communities, including Aldine, Channelview, Crosby, Highlands, Jacinto City, and many more.
You are likely to see him at neighborhood events with a camera around his neck and a notepad in hand. Along with his dedicated staff, Gilbert documents high school football games, attends chamber of commerce meetings, and interviews local politicians. To integrate with the communities he covers, he has become a Rotarian and served on various boards of directors. His work as a journalist has been more meaningful and rewarding than he imagined, and has connected him with some of the kindest and most interesting people he has ever known, many of whom he is proud to call his friends.
With so many passions pursued and dreams fulfilled, it’s hard to imagine what more Gilbert may do in the future that he hasn’t already done in these past 80 years…
This story was written in collaboration with his loving family. Happy birthday!