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Gerry Martel: Mr. Fitchburg Was a City Icon Who Lived a Rich and Priceless Life

March 19, 2019
Gerry Martel relaxes in his unique office at Classic Carriages in Fitchburg in a 2016 photo. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- Around the city, Gerry Martel was known as “Mr. Fitchburg”, a man who turned his passion for music and automobiles into long-standing businesses. To his family, he was an eternal optimist who was fun to be around.

“He was very dear,” said his wife, Nadine, of 44 years. “He really was a special person and one of a kind.”

Martel died in his sleep at his Fitchburg home on Feb. 28 after a brief illness. He was 91 and passed away a week shy of his birthday.

For their last Valentine’s Day together, Martel told Nadine she meant the world to him and was happy to have her as his best friend.

The Gardner native was born in 1927 and served in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II. Afterward, Martel returned to study business at Holy Cross in Worcester.

Afterward, he pursued a career as an entertainer and drummer in New York.

Martel decided to come back to Massachusetts to start a business when he realized that he wouldn’t make it in New York as a musician, Nadine said. He was always ambitious and wanted to be the best.

“He knew he couldn’t be the best banana and he didn’t want to be the second banana,” she said.

In most cases, he succeeded at whatever he tried, Nadine said.

Martel moved to Fitchburg in 1957 when he bought the Fitchburg Music Store when it was on the brink of bankruptcy.

At its height, the store spanned an entire block. He sold guitars there and later rebranded the store as the New England Piano Exchange.

Nadine and Gerry met through a music organization that had its headquarters at the music shop.

Both had two children from previous marriages and blended their families. Martel’s children are Priscilla and Christopher and his step children are Nadine and Raymond Price.

From music to cars

When the music business closed, it gave Martel the opportunity to pursue a passion he had since he was a boy: cars.

He opened a car restoration shop at the former music shop in the early 1970s called SCARS CARS for sport, classic, and antique car restorations. Martel focused on classics like the Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche and Rolls-Royce.

Not long after, he appraised his first car in 1976. That paved the way for him to open Gerry Martel’s Classic Carriages and Collector Car Appraisals. The business started on one end of Main Street and moved by the Upper Common in 2012.

The way someone could tell if Martel was at work was if one of his collector cars were parked outside.

At the time of his death, he was considered one of the oldest car appraisers in the country, according to his obituary.

Gerry’s associate, Rick Boscardin, who worked with him, bought the appraisal business and is continuing to run it, Nadine said.

In his lifetime, Martel owned more than 100 cars, including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Bentley Continental Flying Spur.

He was honored as a lifetime member of the Mid-State Antique Auto Club and went to car shows around the country. Martel was also a member of professional automobile organizations.

As a columnist for the Sentinel & Enterprise, he wrote more than 500 “Auto Biographies.”

Martel grew to love Fitchburg and enjoyed seeing people he knew around the city, his wife said.

When Martel went out, he liked to dress nicely with a decorative handkerchief in his breast pocket or a creative tie.

Martel had pants with cars printed on them that he liked to wear to car shows, Nadine said. He wore them so often that people would ask where the pants were if he didn’t have them on.

“He would always look like a million bucks,” she said.

Martel liked being around others and liked the intimacy of a smaller city like Fitchburg.

“He was a big supporter of the city,” Nadine said. “He felt it had a lot to offer.”

Advisor at Monty Tech

Martel served on an advisory board at Monty Tech for over 40 years and through it he helped the school’s autobody and collision repair program, said David Lelievre, a shop instructor.

He remembered Martel as a charismatic guy with a great sense of humor.

Martel shared his love for cars with students by coming to speak with them in classes, bringing his own cars to open houses, and helping with Monty Tech’s yearly car show.

“He did so much behind the scenes for students,” Lelievre said. “He’s done a little bit of everything ... and everyone would be fortunate to live a long life like him.”

In the community, Martel served as president of the Fitchburg Rotary Club in 1967 and was an honorary president in 2017.

He was also a member and supporter of the Fitchburg Art Museum, the Fay Club, the Oak Hill Country Club, and the Finnish Center and Saima Park.

The Martels liked to go to music conventions together and travel. He shared his love for cars with Nadine and she shared her interest in art.

Although he wasn’t able to be as active after the new year, Martel still did a lot, she said.

“When you reach 92 and you only have six weeks where you don’t get to do stuff, that’s a pretty good record,” Nadine said.

For his birthday, Martel planned to visit his grandson in Connecticut and meet his great-grandson, Nadine said. The grandson had followed in his footsteps and opened a music store.

Visitation for Martel will be Thursday from 3-7 p.m. at Brandon Funeral Home in Fitchburg. A funeral service will be at Christ Church of Fitchburg on Main Street Friday at 11 a.m.

Nadine said a military burial will take place later on, likely after Memorial Day.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz