“Kindness.” It’s the word that keeps coming up when people talk about Jackie Hoffner, a Marin County animal advocate and strong community presence who died in November.
“She was the kindest person I ever met, by a long shot,” said her husband, Barry Hoffner.
To that end, Barry is commemorating his late wife with an endowment and an award at Brandeis Marin, the K-8 Jewish day school the couple’s two sons attended. The new annual award will go to a graduating student who exemplifies some of Jackie’s legendary heart.
A Sausalito resident, Jackie died at the age of 55, killed Nov. 14 by an elephant in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a place she was visiting because of her longstanding commitment to wildlife preservation. Barry declined to discuss specifics of the accident.
After his wife’s death, Barry and his sons Benjamin, 20, and Daniel, 18, chose to set up an endowment and an award in her honor at Brandeis Marin — a special place in their lives, and particularly for Jackie. After living abroad for many years, the family moved from Russia to Marin and found a home in that community. Both boys graduated from Brandeis Marin, and Jackie was a teacher’s assistant there for two years.
“That’s kind of why we came full circle,” said Barry, a former investment banker now active in the nonprofit world as well as in winegrowing.
The Jackie Hoffner Kindness and Tikkun Olam Award will be presented for the first time in May to a graduating 8th-grader who has done something above and beyond in terms of kindness and service. Brandeis Marin teachers will choose the winner and the Hoffner family will donate an as-yet-unspecified sum of money to a nonprofit of the winner’s choosing.
Brandeis Marin head of school Peg Sandel said the award fits in with the school’s core values of integrity and service. “We cultivate a culture of kindness,” she said.
The Dec. 15 memorial for Jackie at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael drew a packed crowd of more than 600 people, according to Barry. Speaking at the memorial, former Brandeis teacher Becky Fenster talked about Jackie’s generous nature. “It was apparent just within a short while of knowing Jackie that she was incredibly special,” she said.
Fenster taught both the Hoffners’ sons, and later Jackie volunteered as a teacher’s assistant for Fenster. “Jackie was light and bright and happy … and so, so kind,” Fenster said in her speech.
Since the memorial, Barry has continued to receive notes and emails talking about how Jackie’s disinterest in public acclaim but firm commitment to everyday, down-to-earth kindness inspired them. “That is her legacy,” he said.
Her legacy also includes her activism and love for animals, from helping people with their injured pets to working with S.F.-based organization WildAid, which works to end the illegal trade in ivory. The 1,100-acre ranch that the Hoffners owned in Cloverdale, called Silverwood, was maintained as a “wildlife corridor,” land linking areas of natural habitat for local foxes, wild pigs, turkeys, deer, mountain lions, bobcats and bears. Her Instagram account was full of photos of animals, from foster kittens to a baby elephant.
That kind of giving nature is what the Hoffners are hoping to honor with the Brandeis Marin award. Sandel appreciates the chance to honor not only Jackie’s memory, but her values — and her kindness.
“There’s no honor greater than that,” Sandel said.