Of Hyde Park, passed away Friday March 9th, 2018 in the Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston at the age of 88.
Devout lifelong Catholic and long-time parishioner of Most Precious Blood Church, Gerard (“Jerry”) went to his final rest during a brief stay at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.
At 88 years old, Jerry was the youngest of 16 children born to John and Rose Palumbo. Nine of his siblings lived to adulthood: John, Grieco, Millie, Salvatore (“Butch”), Annette, Edith, Fannie, Emily and Gloria; each pre-deceased Jerry. His late wife Mary (Arena) Palumbo preceded him in death as well. He is survived by several nieces and nephews.
Despite the aches, pains and impediments of illness and advanced age, Jerry stayed as active as he could until the end. All his life he was blessed with a sharp mind, a sensitive heart and a devoted spirit.
To know Jerry — or to be acquainted even briefly — was to know his gifts of lively wit, sociable curiosity, attention to detail, and irrepressible candor. An eager conversationalist, he shared his strong opinions without any prompting, or any apparent editing either. Jerry was famous for vociferously defending his own point of view, to the point of exhaustion (he rarely got winded himself, but those who tried arguing back occasionally collapsed).
Though he could be stubbornly opinionated, Jerry highly valued objective knowledge and expressed what he knew to be true in a clear, direct voice. As one close family connection put it, “I didn’t know Jerry that long, but it was long enough to consider him a good friend. I found him to be quite honest in his conversations and quite a character, not bound in any way with political correctness of any kind.”
Jerry’s engaging alertness and his un-self-conscious patter also won over his local service agents. “He was in here all the time,” one of them reminisced. “We loved him, genuinely. We could spot him a mile away, in that red and black checkered overcoat. We’d see that coat and say, ‘Oh, Jerry’s coming!’ And he was so sharp! Always on the ball with his affairs, and so meticulous, right up until the end.” Another provider remarked, “He was a lot of fun coming into the office when he got here.”
Not just fun, but funny, with an open-mouthed grin and a scampish laugh that easily erupted when he retailed anything that amused him. His uninhibited running commentary both delighted and confounded friends, family and innocent bystanders, too. Jerry talked like it was going out of style, and he peppered his stories with colorful phrases and ample expletives. “I ain’t no spring chicken, you know”; “Those zeppole went through me like nobody’s business”; and “Hey, it was vivid!” are some of the tamer examples we fondly recall.
Never one for email, Jerry relied on postal correspondence his whole life — whenever leaving a voice message or commandeering a spoken conversation eluded him. He was especially adept at turning a phrase in the hand-penned cards and letters that he sent to people he cared about. In stark contrast to his off-the-cuff utterances, Jerry’s written expression was measured and memorable for its real elegance.
Over the decades, his penmanship and wording alike graced more than one family member: “He wrote beautiful Italian!” his sister Fannie used to rave. Another relation recently said, “What I remember most of all about Uncle Jerry are the letters I received from him in the past. When I read them, it was like reading poetry. He had such a way with words. I would read his letters over and over.”
Jerry was a fiercely committed creature of habit who seemed truly content to keep things status quo. Saturday he attended church; Thursday he hooked up his washer to the kitchen sink and then hung clean, wet clothes outside on the line to dry. His non-negotiables went far beyond weekly routines, too, and spanned decades:
Burnt orange and avocado green only go out of style if you let them, so why redecorate? Rotary dialing was good enough during the Depression, so no need for push buttons, answering machines, or computers now (though in 2016, a friend did finally get Jerry to install a touch-tone wall phone). And nearly thirty years after her death, he remained as steadfastly in love with his late wife Mary as on the day she died.
Almost from cradle to grave, Jerry walked and took the T around Greater Boston like he was born on a bus (or even the sidewalk). Hoofing it was just fine with him, since his sense of direction vanished whenever he drove himself more than a few miles from home. Over the years, he strolled and rode mass transit to as many places as he could reach that way, including doctors’ offices, public agencies, the homes of his relatives, and Suffolk Downs. En route, he delighted in meeting-greeting old acquaintances and making new ones. All that walking, plus doing his daily chores, kept him fit and trim for life, until physical infirmity curbed his sturdy regimen.
Besides watching the races and placing bets at Suffolk, Jerry also enjoyed forays to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He reveled in going there with his late nephew Frankie (“my Ace in the Hole!”), who felt like a younger brother to him. Jerry relished buying lottery tickets, too, and with perpetual optimism relished scratching them even more (whether or not he won anything — which he did, often enough). Cooking and eating were two of his other lifelong passions. Briefly in the ‘70s, he co-owned the popular B&B (Broken Bridge) Diner in Chelsea with his brother Butch. Going into business together didn’t pan out well, so Jerry soon left the diner in Butch’s hands.
He continued cooking at home in Hyde Park up to his last days, and only tapered off when ill health dulled both his appetite and his self-efficacy. As years went by, Jerry increasingly relied on the various tenants who lived downstairs to help him with yard work and housekeeping. But even more, they gave him someone to cook for — and he loved that!
Jerry’s heart was as sincere and sensitive as his mind was sharp. By far, he preferred connecting with friends or family in the flesh, face to face and hug to hug. But a phone call, a letter or even a brief card from any of us never failed to elicit his generous appreciation.
Perhaps what Jerry cherished most of all was the life he shared with his beloved bride. More than his loyal wife, Mary was his best friend, and he adored her. Jerry thrived in her companionship and mourned her dearly for nearly three decades after her own untimely death. “Oh, do I miss that girl!” He thought the world of Mary and filled with affection, admiration and happiness whenever he spoke of her and their marriage.
Also near and dear to him was Grieco, his brother who lived with congenital disabilities and special needs until succumbing to them in 1973. For Jerry’s whole life up to that point, he gave devoted care to Grieco. Soon after he died, family bonds pulled Jerry and sisters Edie, Millie, Fannie and Emma to Italy. There, all four siblings met their eldest brother John for the very first time.
Throughout his life, Jerry expressed keen empathy for the underdogs of the world and showed boundless compassion for the indigent, the orphaned, and the long-suffering. A long-time neighbor said, “Jerry could be a curmudgeon, but he had a warmth underneath it all. I admired his spunk. I liked him and will miss him.”
He kept vigilant track of every penny he spent and knew where every dollar went. If Jerry didn’t think you deserved it, or didn’t believe he owed it, he unapologetically withheld it. Yet he freely offered what he had to cherished friends and relatives, when they asked nothing of him. And he faithfully supported charitable works that served those who genuinely needed any type of assistance “to make them a decent citizen — a good person or a productive member of society.” To honor and perpetuate his inspired giving, in lieu of flowers please make a donation in Jerry’s name to his favorite charity: St. Anthony’s Shrine on Arch Street in Boston.
Maybe most of all, Jerry’s warm and plucky spirit will live on in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to know and love him. When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Jerry requested that people “say good things about me.” That part is easy; the hard part is missing him, and that’s already begun. Bless your soul, dear Jerry; you’re irreplaceable and we’ll never forget you.
Laughlin, Nichols & Pennacchio Funeral Home in Hyde Park is assisting the family with arrangements for a mass at Most Precious Blood Church, followed by interment at Fairview Cemetery. Both events are slated for early May; when confirmed, exact dates and times will be posted here. For more information, please contact Laura J. Nigro through this website.