People often stare at Richard Hoye.
He catches the eye—an older man on a bicycle with a poncho-clad black dog in the pedicab trailing behind him. Hoye often sports a large Western-style straw hat that he considers his signature.
The hat is called “The Gus.” The black Lab mix is Prince Rudder. The man is a 66-year-old retired firefighter, avid salsa dancer, transportation advocate and weightlifter trying to reverse the metrics of aging.
Hoye does not mind the attention he receives from the people he passes. Rather, he courts it. He slows down near pedestrians and floor-to-ceiling windows. Often he waves and smiles. Though he has not owned a car for 27 years, there’s a purpose to his riding beyond just transportation. He believes that many of society’s problems could be solved if communities were more compact and people eschewed cars and engaged with strangers as they commuted. That’s what he and Rudder do, he explains.
On this particular day in Bethesda’s center, he’s the man about town. When Hoye turns onto Montgomery Avenue, he is greeted by waves and nods from construction workers who see him regularly.
Hoye next strikes up a conversation with a friend who’s homeless and lost his legs to illness. The two have known each other a long time, and greet one another as Hoye rides by.
“I’m just sort of like family,” Hoye says. “It’s nice to have some feeling of a small-town experience.”
Hoye grew up in Potomac, the son of an accountant and a homemaker. Though he recalls a pleasant childhood, he scarcely saw his neighbors—most of them white-collar professionals—except in the moments before 9 or after 5. He attended Winston Churchill High School and graduated in 1974.
Now Hoye critically examines the conditions he grew up in. He considers suburbanization a cause of significant societal problems. It alienates people, separates them along economic lines, and degrades the environment as people use more land than they need, he says.
Years ago, Hoye dropped out of college to join the fire department. On multiple occasions, he administered emergency care to older people who had fallen and remained on the floor for two or three days before someone found them.
As a firefighter, Hoye probed the conditions that led to people’s vulnerability. Older people in single-family homes were often isolated. Their children could not afford to live near them, and their age made it burdensome to drive to urban areas.
“I was also seeing how interconnected we are, even though it doesn’t appear so on the surface,” Hoye says. “In fact, we’re very much dependent on each other, which I think the pandemic is showing us.”
He stayed on as a firefighter for 25 years before retiring at 52.
He still roams the Bethesda-Chevy Chase firehouse’s halls, lined with black-and-white photographs of cars mangled from crashes and buildings choked with flames. He points out the men and women he worked with in the photos and then suits up to leave the station—but now in a newsboy cap for a bike ride through downtown Bethesda.
Hoye lives on the outskirts of downtown Bethesda in a small redbrick house. Velida Juzbasic, a neighbor, says he’s the first to offer to watch her dog, clear snow from her driveway or trim back her hedges. “It is very important to have neighbors that you actually communicate with,” Juzbasic says. “That’s Richard. If you need anything, he’s there. If he can help you, he will help you out.”
But Hoye is struggling to stay in the area. Last year, he put a reverse mortgage on his house.
“I feel so lucky to be someone who cannot really afford to live in this area, to be enriched by what this area has to give,” Hoye says. The people who can comfortably live here, he says, seldom get to experience what the neighborhood has to offer because they spend most of their time working in order to afford their mortgage or rent.
Greg Kiel, who lives down the street from him, says Hoye is a positive force for Bethesda because he is not concerned with material wealth and opposes the exclusivity of the area. He focuses instead on humanitarian causes.
On a policy level, Hoye pushes to change settlement patterns to allow for more serendipitous human interactions. He envisions and lobbies for compact communities connected by transit. This means small towns where people can live, run errands, and interact—all without cars.
But lately he’s shifted his efforts to a much more personal goal. Hoye hopes to reverse the metrics that define aging and have the biological markers of someone half his age.
The ultimate goal of his quest to extend life? Hoye hopes to live a long life with Leonor Ruiz, the woman he met at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and proposed to in late July, at 66 years old.
“Leonor has a 12-year-old son. I’ve got to keep in shape for the both of them,” Hoye jokes.
This story appears in the September/October 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.