Joseph George Chromy Jr.
April 11, 1962 – July 28, 2019
Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. - Buddha
Fabulous Friend. Heroic Hugger. “Sultan of Somerville.” Joseph George Chromy, Jr., aka BraveJoe to his beloved circle of family and friends, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, July 28, 2019. He fought a valiant 18-month battle with glioblastoma with dignity, grace, and his signature good humor.
The fifth child and first son in a family of seven children, Joe was born in Troy, NY, the son of Doris (MacDonald) and Joseph Chromy, Sr. Self-described as the son of a “migrant retail manager,” as the family moved throughout the years from upstate New York to Maryland and then Massachusetts, Joe learned to adapt to new places and form fast and meaningful personal connections, skills that were the underpinning of his entire life. It can be said of Joe that he genuinely “never met a stranger.” A graduate of Western New England College (WNE) with a B.A. in Government and Economics, Joe was instrumental in the formation of WNE’s men’s lacrosse program.
Joe was a devout Buddhist practitioner, specifically of the Nichiren Shoshu lineage, where he also mentored young people and newcomers. In 1992, as a member of a Prodigy bulletin board, the first consumer online service in the U.S., Joe chose the moniker “BraveJoe” as his inaugural email handle, a nod to his then hometown, Atlanta, GA, and their baseball team. For those who knew and loved Joe, the name became more than a simple user name. It embodied his true identity, capturing his intelligence, honesty, humor, and above all, courage. It was in this intersection of Buddhism and the emerging Internet that the legend took root.
Joe spent his professional life in the student loan industry, specifically focusing on the management of student loan portfolios. A highly successful career led him to travel and, as he said, “spend at least one night” in 48 of our 50 United States. During his 10-year tenure as executive vice-president with Educational Credit Services (ESC), when the ownership literally walked away from ECS leaving hundreds of employees without pay, Joe’s integrity and leadership prevailed as he worked with the FBI, banks (as receivership was the only viable option), and the U.S. Department of Education to continue operating with the remaining staff, all while battling to keep creditors at bay during bankruptcy proceedings. Through his business acumen and regulatory expertise, Joe was able to find a way forward that allowed hundreds of employees to maintain their jobs and support their families while keeping the business viable until it could be sold. From this experience, Joe is remembered by customers, colleagues, and staff for his integrity, cooperative approach, and honesty during this challenging time.
Joe’s unique combination of extensive knowledge of the student loan arena and his genuine desire to achieve more humane outcomes for institutions, government, and especially student borrowers led him to influence and advocate for improvements in federal policy, regulations, and practices that have become standard industry norms.
Joe’s success and experiences in the student loan industry inspired him to establish a consulting firm, Momentum Business Strategies (MBS). For 15 years, Joe successfully assisted home office markets, businesses, and government contractors to reinvent and achieve their strategic and fiscal goals by infusing a culture of managerial courage and executing innovations in strategic planning, market analysis, and corporate management.
Joe was a long-time member of and served on the board of directors of the Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations (COHEAO). He was dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the Federal Perkins Loan and HHS Loan programs. Joe also participated in numerous COHEAO committees, including the Legislative and Regulatory Review and the Commercial Member and Default Prevention Committees. A member of the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) Debt Management Committee (DMC), Joe was a frequent moderator and speaker and assisted in planning multiple DMC fall conferences. Joe was also a presenter and speaker at more than 40 regional, national, and international business and financial trade conferences and was a two-time recipient of the ACA International Beacon Award.
Joe lived in many vibrant American cities, but it was Somerville, Massachusetts, that became his heart’s true home. He dubbed his Windsor Road residence “Windsor Castle” and treated everyone who walked through his doors as royalty. A benevolent, caring, and conscientious contributor to his community, during snowstorms, Joe could be seen pushing his snowblower, the “Big Dog,” down the length of Windsor Road, clearing paths of safe egress for elderly and infirm neighbors. During sunnier seasons, it gave BraveJoe great joy to transform Windsor Castle into a headquarters for block parties and Memorial Day barbeques, as well as performances by the “Sunsetters,” a youth musical group. Numerous and memorable were the times Windsor Castle became a make-shift bed and breakfast for friends and family, as well as a performance stage for aspiring musicians at the annual Somerville Porch Fest. A champion of the children of Somerville, Joe was a frequent and generous contributor to fundraisers that brought quality literature to local students. He also served as an election warden and visited 8th-grade civics classrooms to discuss the electoral process. In Arlington, VA, Joe continued his community involvement as an elected member of the board of directors of the Bella Vista Condo Association.
A loquacious man who didn’t only tell a story but very often was the story, until the day of his death, BraveJoe loved life and lived it to the fullest. Music was one of his many passions, and as a radio DJ in college, he developed a deep appreciation for all musical genres and was particularly fond of 80’s alternative rock. As an astute consumer of current events, Joe was always ready for a lively debate on any global topic. Throughout the course of his life, and even in the treatment phase of his final illness, Joe enjoyed games that challenged and engaged his logical, mathematical brain, including multi-frame Sudoku puzzles, cribbage, poker, and other card games. An avid fan and collector of the Marvel comic books series, Joe was also a prolific photographer with an eye for capturing the essence of people and the joy of everyday life. An adventurous and excellent cook, Joe had a knack for turning pantry staples into a spontaneous gourmet meal that could never be replicated. Although Joe enjoyed all types of sports, and for many years managed a fantasy football league, whether playing, spectating, or attending a major championship tournament match, lacrosse remained an enduring passion. And, as a life-long closet computer geek, Joe never met a computer he couldn’t fix or a network he couldn’t program.
A dutiful son and beloved brother, unique uncle, and loyal friend, BraveJoe will be remembered for his larger than life persona, as someone who turned the ordinary into the extraordinary, and, with his amazing listening skills, could make you feel as though you were the only person in the room. As he traveled through the many phases of his life, BraveJoe Chromy was a “collector of people,” someone who gathered loved ones together and continuously broadened his circle of friends. His expansive heart and welcoming arms were open to all. Many credit BraveJoe Chromy with being a wise advisor and trusted confidant who dispensed life-changing guidance. Through his magnetic sense of fun, contagious laughter, and fierce devotion, Joe created an enduring “family of the heart,” an unwavering network of love that will continue to hold and support all those, both family and friends alike, who love him.
Perhaps the greatest story Joe ever wrote is the nearly 20-year whirlwind romance with his soulmate and cherished wife, Debra. Together they traveled the world and embarked on fantastic adventures, soared through the skies in hot-air balloons, went on safari, attended epic concerts of iconic music acts and Broadway shows, created legendary Halloween experiences, complete with sound effects, fog machines, and, of course, “the good candy” that Joe distributed by the fistful to neighborhood trick-or-treaters, and gathered hundreds of friends and family for bountiful New Year’s Day feasts, featuring BraveJoe Chromy’s trademark “mountains” of bacon. Yet, they found their greatest pleasures and joys in the simple aspects of life: watching a favorite television show together, bantering over a political debate, playing a game of cribbage, or enjoying their nightly ritual of a meal at the dining room table, laughing and chatting about everything and nothing at all well into the evening. Their love was rooted in their companionship, mutual respect, and enjoyment of each other’s company. As a couple, the trust that Joe and Debra shared was so complete that they could dare to take professional risks, expand personal horizons, and envision and create a life that was unimaginable without each other. Debra is, in the simplest of terms, the love of Joe’s life.
Joe is survived by his wife, Debra of Somerville, MA, and Arlington, VA; Jo-Anne van der Vat-Chromy of Harrisonburg, VA; Kristina Tyssowski and husband Joe of Glenwood, MD; Katherine Jankowski and husband Bernie of Poolesville, MD; Laura Bears and husband Bruce of Medford, MA; Colin Chromy of Kingston, MA; Jen Alice Babb and husband Robert of Weymouth, MA.; 12 adoring nieces and nephews; and a “vast and mighty” tribe of devoted friends, aka Chromy’s Homies.
A Buddhist memorial ceremony will be held on Friday, August 16th, at 12:00 pm in the sanctuary at the National Funeral Home in Falls Church, VA, followed by a graveside ritual.
A Celebration of Life will be held for family and friends on Saturday, August 24th, in Andover, MA.
In the coming year, Joe’s ashes will also be spread in Wyoming and Alaska, the two states Joe never had the opportunity to visit while he was with us.
In lieu of flowers and in keeping with the spirit of BraveJoe’s selfless generosity, demonstrated by his organ donation to the Washington Regional Transplant Community, please consider contributing to one of the following charities that were important to him.
Arlington County Fire Department Attn: Financial Offices 2100 Clarendon Blvd. Suite 400 Arlington, VA 22201 Please include: In honor of Joseph George Chromy, Jr.
- Buddhist Memorial Prayer Service Friday, August 16, 2019
- Graveside Service Friday, August 16, 2019
- Celebration of Life Saturday, August 24, 2019
Joseph George Chromy Jr.
August 4, 2019
Deb, Family & Friends,
I am sorry about your loss. You will be in my thoughts and prayers!
When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure! May your memories give you peace and comfort!
Joe was active in NCHELP, Debt Management Committee and COHEAO. I called Joe the 'Wiz Kid.' Sharing in your sorrow.
With love and friendship.
Representative Carl Perry in South Dakota
PS: Gone from our sight, but never from our hearts!
August 4, 2019
Thank you, BraveJoe. It was an honor to know you.
August 3, 2019
Wow what a tribute to Joe , he surely was one of a kind , always had a giant hug ready for me when I saw him we had a little joke between us ,he would open his arms wide and I would offer my hand for a shake lol no way he would yell and soon the hugging began . I would never object or mind how could you with the love and warmth that oozed from every pore of this wonderful human being .
Judi Allen Krech
August 3, 2019
My name is Judi Allen Krech I met Joe 20 some years ago when I first went to work for ECS. He thought me how to use a computer and became my friend at the same time, He taught me well and had a lot of patience with me. Joe was one of the kindest sweetest most caring man I have ever met in my life. I only wish I could have seen more of him before he left us . I love you Joe Chromy and I’ll never forget you Rest In Peace. God be with Debra and your family.
Audrey Christina Ricucci
August 2, 2019
“Brave” Joe a gentle man will be missed by so many people. Your life lit the room with smiles and laughter and heart shared to many.
An honor to know you and to work with you. Many memories never to be forgotten.
My deepest sympathy to Joe’s family.
August 2, 2019
I remember the one time I met BraveJoe. He was just an incredible force. I wish the family Peace..
Christine Mastrodonato Hollmer
August 1, 2019
Joe was our neighbor when he was on Red Barn Circle. I remember so well when his family moved in from MD and especially how friendly Joe and all his siblings were. Joe’s taste in music was amazing and I remember listening to albums and the mixed tapes he created, and that he loved Alan Parsons Project, Yes, and the Samples. He had a gentle way about him and a huge heart. You will be missed and I send my deepest condolences.
July 31, 2019
One of the fondest memories that Lauren and I have of Joe was when he and Debra surprised us on our Goodfellas night. We were still preparing for the day when the doorbell rang. I open the door and nearly fell to the ground. Needless to say he made not only my day but the day for everyone. Joe you will always be in my heart and in my memories.