Saturday, November 28, 2009

Life Here Seems to be on Hold, but Life Goes on Back Home

Last month the last of the six Gussman brothers died. My father, George, was the fourth of six sons born to two Jewish emigres from Odessa, Russia. My grandfather died in 1932 just over 20 years before I was born. I have very few memories of seeing my father's three older brothers: Abraham, Emmanuel and Ralph, but I occasionally saw the youngest of the six, my uncle Harold, and most often saw the fifth brother, Lewis. In our family, everyone referred to him as Uncle Louie. He was the most successful of the five brothers, following Grandpa into the produce business and building a highly regarded business of his own.
Louie always drove Cadillacs and often drove too fast. My father liked to tell the story of Louie being one of the first to get a new Cadillac after the auto plants started making cars again after World War 2. Louie wrecked the car not too long after. He wasn't badly injured, but no one seemed to car about him anyway. People at the scene and after said what a shame it was to wreck a new Cadillac.
Uncle Louie had one son, Bob, who I always thought of as an uncle rather than a cousin because he is about 15 years older than I am. I saw Bob more than any of my cousins. He had a very dry sense of humor, in contrast to the loud exclamations that characterized most of the people at Gussman gatherings. Bob, like his Dad, is still working long past the age others retire, and if he lives to 100 like his Dad, he will also probably work till he is 98.

The obituary below is from Produce News--a trade paper. It says a lot about Uncle Louie as a businessman and as a person that they would run his obituary.

Mutual Produce founder dies at 100
by Brian Gaylord

BOSTON -- Lewis Gussman, founder of Mutual Produce Corp., here, died Sept. 30 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, following a brief illness. He was 100.

Mr. Gussman launched the wholesale company, formerly named Mutual Produce Inc., at the New England Produce Center in 1955. He sold the company in 2000 and continued to work for Mutual Produce Corp. until he was 98.

"He paid his bills on time, he ran a good business," Richard Travers Jr., co- owner of Mutual Produce Corp., said of Mr. Gussman. He added that some shippers have been doing business with Mutual Produce for 30 years.

Mr. Travers said that Mr. Gussman loved the produce business because "no two days are the same." He said that Mr. Gussman would "jump on the phone" to tell callers that he'd rubbed elbows with their grandparents.

Sadly for Mr. Gussman, he outlived his contemporaries in the produce industry. "He was the oldest guy around here for 15 years," Mr. Travers said. "He was an icon of the produce industry."

Mr. Travers recalled that Mr. Gussman "loved playing with fruit, creating displays that were outstanding."

Paul DiMare, president of Boston-based DiMare Inc., said that Mr. Gussman was a mentor of sorts to him. He described Mr. Gussman as "honorable" and "one of the best produce people."

"He was a double A house in [the] Blue Book," which meant that he paid his bills every week, Mr. DiMare said. "There aren't a whole lot of companies that do that."

Mr. DiMare said that "everybody respected [Mr. Gussman] in Boston" and that he had a "great list of top-notch shippers."

Mr. Gussman's five siblings -- all brothers -- also worked in fresh produce, though not at Mutual Produce. Mr. Gussman's father also worked in fresh produce.

Mr. Gussman is survived by a son, Bob Gussman, and his wife, Trudi, of Winchester, NH, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lewis Gussman was preceded in death by his wife, Ethel Rosenberg, in 2004.

Bob Gussman said that the family is considering holding a memorial gathering in the spring.

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