The Plague-Ground – Does Our Future Already Exist on Fogo Island?

As we sit at home watching our hair grow uncut, we’re deluged with ideas for how to rebuild a fairer, kinder world once life on earth returns to normal.

Let me add this idea:

Talk to Zita Cobb.

She was born 62 years ago in Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island. Her parents couldn’t read or write. At age 5, she got TB and was shipped off to the san, her first experience with an infectious disease.

But against many odds, she made it to and through Carleton University in Ottawa and started to work for a tiny tech company after getting her CA.

Eventually, it grew to become JDS Uniphase and Zita grew to be its CFO and Chief Strategy Officer– and the third highest-paid woman in America. In one year alone, she engineered 42 takeovers.

As someone said, Zita Cobb is smart, worked hard, grew rich, gave back.

It’s the ‘gave back’ part we can learn from in creating a fairer, kinder, more equal land. The arc of zillionaire philanthropy is all the vogue these days. But even in this heady company, Zita stands apart.

Six years ago, she spent $40 million to build a 29-room hotel, the Fogo Island Inn, that’s won every award a hotel can dream of. Guests pay well over $1,000 a night to stay there and eat its Newfoundland Cuisine. Architectural Digest has called it “One of the 10 Most Daring Buildings in the World”, and a Bloomberg headline blares “The Most Remote and Magical Hotel on Earth.”

But the Inn is just a supporting player. The real star is the community of Fogo Island itself, its 2,500 people and how they have built on the engine that Zita created with the Shorefast Foundation, which owns the Inn.

Shorefast is already breathing new life into what was frankly a dying island on the edge of nowhere. And if COVID-19 strikes America as badly as experts predict, Canada might find itself a stricken land on the edge of nowhere – but with somewhere to turn.

Because Zita Cobb has created an idea of the world that’s at odds with most of the world, and certainly contrary to the communities most of us hail from. It’s about how to change our relationship with the world – and it holds lessons not just for small places engulfed by big forces everywhere, but for all our places brought up short by conventional thinking.

As Zita says and as all of us are learning so painfully now: “We exist in relationship to the whole. The whole planet. The whole of humanity. The whole of existence. It is our job to find ways to belong to the whole while upholding the specificity of people and place.”

Now that sounds nice. But…..really?

Well, one morning at breakfast I introduced one friend to another and somehow the conversation turned to Zita and Fogo. My first friend had just got back from the Inn with his wife and daughter. My other was skeptical of our rave reviews, and especially our Narnia-like claims for Fogo and its people.

So, my first friend leaned over to him and said: “You and I are lucky. We’ve been able to stay at some amazing hotels around the world. But Fogo is the only one where, when we got home, I picked up the phone and called the front desk and told them we were safe.”

Zita Cobb credits her confidence from her recovery from tuberculosis which she carried into her adult life — and it turns out into the lives of many many others.

So if your mind is turning to how we’re going to build a better way to live, why don’t you donate the next 90 minutes of this day to the rest of your days?

Here’s Zita to show and tell you how it can work. She appears at 20:00.

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9 replies
  1. Avatar
    Louise Levitt says:

    Bob, I am a great fan of both Fogo Island Inn and Zita Cobb. Her vision of community and giving back has made an enormous impact on the island and I think there has been a ripple effect with all who have had the opportunity to witness first hand, the change that the Inn and the Foundation has had on the population of Fogo that spreads beyond the ferry. Would that it also effects us all now!
    This is an uplifting blog today. And I appreciate it.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Sandra Pierce says:

    The most amazing place in the world! As you well know Bob on my trip with you –my little accident resulted in an unscheduled ambulance ride to the Island hospital. What you might not have known was that poor hubby had missed lunch. While he sat in the Emergency waiting room in walked someone who asked if he was Dennis Fox. It was a hotel employee with a bag of sandwiches, fruit and baked goods – the Inn thought he’d be hungry. It was an hour drive from Fogo Island Inn to the hospital!! This employee faced an hour drive back. Now that is caring. Fogo Island Inn – there is no place like it in the world.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Caroline LeBlanc says:

      That is such a beautiful story. A wonderful community caring for each other.

      I have so many kind and profoundly impactful stories from visiting Fogo. Let’s hope that we can bring them with us into this new era to ensure that we create purposeful compassionate communities.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Jacquie Green says:

    Thanks for writing about this wonderful, inspirational person and place.
    The Inn is truly extraordinary – the building, the setting, the food, the decor.
    And it is also the exceptional qualities of the people of Fogo Island and of Newfoundland that continue to make the Inn magic.
    It’s knowing that the front desk staff care that you got home safe, that for them you are not just another in the thousands of bodies that have passed through, that you matter to them – even if you’re “from away”.
    So thanks to Zita for preserving a place and a culture that matters.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Judith McDermid says:

    Bob, we have talked in detail about Fogo Island, although I know you have great love for the place and project.
    Now, I understand, thank you for a most inspiring morning!

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Suzanne Christie says:

    Bob, thank you for introducing me to Fogo and to Zita. I will return. And, let’s hope Zita will take over the world – or at least her ideas will.

    Reply

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