To hear one of his closest friends tell it, Robert S. Boh is a humble, understated man who would never – but never – hog the spotlight.
“The endearing quality of him is that he’s not trying to be THE guy in the room,” Gary Lorio said. “He’s the good guy in the room, but he’s not trying to be THE guy in the room.”
All that will change on Tuesday (March 5), when Boh will become not just THE guy in the room but THE guy in the city as he reigns as Rex, king of Carnival.
This 24-hour role reversal – from a low-key man to an overwhelmingly public man – will represent an about-face for the president and CEO of Boh Bros. Construction Co., “but I think I can get used to it pretty quick,” he said in an interview. “As they say, it’s good to be king, and I’m sure that’s true.”
Boh, 60, chuckled as he sat on a sofa in the spacious, bright living room of the raised cottage where he lives with his wife, Ann Patteson Boh, who sat nearby on a chair.
Their house, just across the Orleans Parish line from Old Metairie, reflects the personality of a man whom friends described as efficient, diligent and orderly. A few days before Fat Tuesday, everything around the couple was immaculate – not a dust speck in sight – and books were neatly stacked on a table in the center of the room.
The only hints of Boh’s upcoming reign stood on two thin rectangular tables flanking the entrance to the living room: a Rex statuette and figurines of three plumed equestrian lieutenants – dressed in purple, green and gold – were atop one table; Rex’s float and a silver bowl bearing a string of purple, green and gold beads were on the other table.
Boh, a tall, slender man, wore the Rex organization tie – a black number with thin purple, green and gold stripes – and a moderately blingy pin called a Rex member’s ducal, which he had affixed to the breast pocket of his suit jacket. As befits a man known for a low-key personality, Boh barely moved as he sat beneath a vast Charles Derbes canvas and discussed in a calm, steady voice his role in the city’s signature celebration.
Being Rex runs in the family. His father, Robert H. Boh, wore the crown in 1998. His son’s memories of that Fat Tuesday 21 years ago are indelible.
In fact, he said, when he learned in November that he would be this year’s Rex, “the first thing I thought of was that my father would be so happy that I would have the chance to experience what I know was the greatest honor of his life. … The relationship with the organization and the other former kings of Carnival were things he cherished the rest of his life.”
Robert H. Boh died in 2017. His son is the 11th son of a former Rex to reign as king of Carnival.
“I was always raised to be my own person,” this year’s Rex said, “but doing something that someone else you know was honored for adds immeasurably to the honor.”
The two Bohs were extremely close, said Gerry Barousse, a longtime friend.
“When they were together, you’d always see him being very observant and very deferential” to his father, Barousse said. “You could always see he was learning, and I think that shows today. He was taking on the role of his life.”
Rex’s mother, Katherine Boh, will be cheering her son on Tuesday on the reviewing stand at the InterContinental Hotel; among the other spectators will be Ann Boh’s father, Carter Patteson.
A vital criterion for being picked to be Rex is community involvement. Boh is a trustee of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, chairman of the Ozanam Inn Advisory Board and a member of the boards that run the Ochsner Health Foundation and the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation. He also is a former president of the Southeast Louisiana Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America and a former director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
As a result of Robert and Ann Bohs’ donations to Ochsner Medical Center, a pediatric-care unit was named for their son Michael, who died of cystic fibrosis in 2009, said Stephen H. Boh, Rex’s brother.
Civic activism among the Bohs is part of the family’s DNA. For Robert H. Boh’s father and his grandfather Henry Boh, “the focus on the community was always there,” this year’s Rex said. “In fact, we say that the purpose of our company is to honorably serve our community.”
“He’s a driven guy, has been all his life,” Barousse said. “That came from his family.”
As this year’s Rex grew up, he was accustomed to seeing his father head off to meetings of schools, business councils and the Chamber of Commerce because, he said, “it was part of his role as president of our family company. It was something he enjoyed to do.”
This year’s Rex has had to juggle his community roles with the responsibility of leading Boh Bros., a position he has held since 1994. That was especially tough in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when the company had to relocate to Baton Rouge, said Stephen Boh, the company’s vice president.
“There were 1,200-1,300 people, plus their families,” he said. He had to cobble people together to see who could make it to the Baton Rouge office. He led the efforts of the whole company, whether it was finding employees to be sure they were OK or getting an old bridge fixed and another one built. … We tried to balance what our employees were going through with trying to build our city back.”
“He loves his city,” Barousse said. “It’s in his business fabric. He wants to see the city succeed at all levels, and that’s not just for his business, but for people from all walks of life and all income levels. That’s what sets him apart form a lot of the business community and his fellow citizens.”
Boh, a lifelong New Orleanian, graduated from Jesuit High School and earned two degrees – a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master of business administration degree – at Tulane University in five years.
In 1981, the year he received his MBA, Boh started at Boh Bros. as a project manager. He was named vice president in 1986 and president and CEO eight years later.
In addition to leading business groups such as Louisiana Associated General Contractors and the New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Boh has been a director of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and a member of the Construction Industry Roundtable, the National academy of Construction and the New Orleans Business Council.
All this activity has led Boh to the throne he will occupy on Tuesday. Unlike other Rex members who grew up with fathers and grandfathers who were active in the krewe, he was not the son of an organization member when he was a child.
On Fat Tuesday, “we would pack up and go to somebody’s house along the parade route for the Rex parade,” he said. “My memory is of coming home with my sister and maybe my brother as well and getting in the back yard and setting up a ladder and taking turns being the guy on the float throwing the beads to the two of them in the yard.”
This year’s Rex was a duke in 1979, when the police strike canceled the parade. His sister, Elizabeth Anne Boh, wound up being a maid in the 1982 court, and Stephen Boh was a duke in 1988. His daughter, Patricia Patteson Boh, was a maid in 2013.
The Bohs also have a son, Richard Boh.
This latest addition to Boh’s résumé is “a huge nod of respect to Robert, and I think it’s well deserved,” Barousse said.
“Obviously, he’s being recognized, but I know that’s not why he does it,” said Lorio, who was best man in the Bohs’ wedding. “He’s been blessed, and he feels a responsibility to give back. … I know he’ll enjoy it.”