‘A True Lowellian’ and Great Friend
LOWELL -- Every morning, friends and family say, Robert Gervais would read through three different newspapers, spend an hour or so catching up with his employees and then make sure his office door was unlocked for any customers who wanted to visit him.
Gervais, who with his brothers launched a well-known automotive group that today has locations around Greater Lowell, died on Dec. 21 at the age of 87.
He left behind a successful business and a reputation for gregariousness and charity that did not slow even in his later years.
“You talk to Bob for five minutes and you’ve formed a friendship,” said Harold Waterhouse, a retired Lowell police arson investigator who was friends with Gervais for close to 50 years. “He’d never upset you, never get you upset, because he always tried to treat people on an equal basis.”
A lifelong Lowellian, Gervais first entered the world of car sales in 1961, when he and his brothers opened a Dodge dealership in Ayer. Eighteen years later, they purchased a Buick dealership in their native Lowell, and today, several different branches across the region offer Lincolns, Buicks and Volkswagens.
The business remained in the family, too. Gervais’ sons Peter and Richard run the dealerships now, and Robert’s grandchildren even got involved in sales, putting three generations of Gervaises in the same line of work.
And in those dealerships, Gervais made a point of supporting his employees, according to those who worked for him. John Martin, sales manager at the family’s Lincoln dealership in Lowell, started as a 19-year-old salesman. In the 37 years since then, he said Gervais grew into “one of (his) best friends.”
“Within two or three months (of being hired), I realized I had the best boss in the world, no question,” Martin said. “They always treated us with respect, asked our opinions before making decisions.”
Gervais’s legacy extends beyond the business, though. He was a frequent presence around the city, offering his perspective on how the hometown he loved so much could grow and improve. In the 1970s, he served on Lowell’s City Development Board, and he also spent several years on the board of Saint John’s Hospital.
When he was given Lowell High School’s Distinguished Alumni award, the program described him as “a true Lowellian who loves to see the City of Lowell thrive.”
“His whole thing was Lowell first,” said Peter Gervais, Robert’s son. “He was born in Lowell, grew up in Lowell, after a short stint outside of Lowell came back and decided to spend his life here.”
Martin estimated that his friend helped or donated to more than 50 charities each year with a particular passion for the Salvation Army of Greater Lowell. Tom Bomil, a lifelong friend of Gervais who is chairmain of the Salvation Army of Greater Lowell’s advisory board, said that generosity extended across the entire family. He recalled winter concerts where the Gervais family would donate all of the proceeds from a parking lot they owned directly to the charity.
″(Robert) was an all-around good guy,” Bomil said. “He treated the wealthy person on Wall Street the same way he treated the Joe Six-Pack guy in the city of Lowell.”
Those who knew Gervais well found his memorial last week at the Immaculate Conception Church particularly fitting. Waterhouse, who is a Eucharistic minister, had stopped doing funerals in recent years but made a point to serve at the services for his friend. Not only was the entire family on hand to honor the man they loved and speak with praise, but the building was filled practically to capacity by all sorts of people Gervais had known.
Many of them were current or former employees of the car dealership. That seemed to be a fitting touch, Waterhouse said, given the kind of business Gervais had run.
“If you worked for Bob,” Waterhouse said, “you were part of his family.”