1936 – 2022
PUTNAM – Robert “Bob” Louis Gomes, 85, of Webster Lake, Mass., and Putnam, died Sunday, January 9, 2022, after a long illness. He was born February 13, 1936, at home in Somerville, Mass., third son of Sarah (Bishop) Gomes and Alfred E. Gomes.
He was a graduate of Dedham High School, Class of 1953. In his young adult years he won trophies in roller (skate) couples dance competitions.
A gifted mechanic and musician, he started his career in cars at 15, working at Ben’s garage across from the family home in Dedham. Against his mother’s wishes, headstrong Bob paid $35 for his first car, a black 1936 Chevy that he painted blue. He hid the car at Ben’s until, as Bob tells the story, his father told his mother, “Bobby bought it and he’s bringing it over here. Period.”
His career choice was perfect given his eastern Massachusetts accent — he was in the “cah” business.
He started as a service tech at Seavey’s in Boston. He also worked at Lawless Chevy in Canton, Mass., a Renault dealership in Norwood, Mass., Allen Chevrolet in Dedham, Mass., and the Boch organization on the “Auto Mile,” (Rt. 1, in Mass.), among others. He worked his way up to general manager of Boch’s Mitsubishi store. Ernie Boch Sr., one of his mentors, advised Bob when he bought the former Cormier Chrysler in Putnam in 1984. By the time he sold it in 2003, Bob, always the builder, had expanded Gomes Total Chrysler on Rt. 44 in East Putnam 10-fold from the former tiny cinderblock garage to a Five Star Chrysler dealership. At one time he was a “six pack” dealership, selling Chrysler, Jeep, American Motors, Dodge, Eagle and Ram trucks. He was beyond proud of this accomplishment.
No one thought he’d retire when he sold the dealership (the official name of the party given for him after he sold the dealership was “The Surprise Non-Retirement Party”. Next up: Woodstock Piano & Music from 2004 to 2014. The joyful differences he said were that there were “no oil pans and people don’t walk in the door cringing about a car salesperson. It is pianos and organs and lessons. It’s music. It’s joy.”
Full of life and drive, he worked hard, often working on the side, too. He was famous for “ask forgiveness, not permission” — so no surprise, he once landed his plane on the ice at Webster Lake.
His favorite place was Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. He, like the others in a group of Boston area friends, spent most summer weekends at the lake, building their cottages on the lake. Bob first built a cottage on Rattlesnake Island and then on Sleeper Island. They enjoyed the lake all four seasons from 1962 to 1977-78.
Many may not know how generous he was because he was understated about that. He quietly helped all he could. He was a friend to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. At Woodstock Piano & Music, he often donated organs and pianos to churches or would give a piano to someone in need. He always gave someone a chance, giving people the start they needed when no one else would hire them.
Bob’s “you can’t have enough of” list included: Orange juice, sneakers, ice cream, peanut butter, the color maroon, cardinals and bird feeders, building and boat and vehicle projects (including “On Golden Pond” building projects with his grandson Joe), light house statues, maps/globes, “straight & level” on projects, tape measures, flashlights, stars (the windows of heaven), talk radio, talking backwards, a group sing of “The 12 Days of Christmas” at the dealership Christmas party every year, without fail, and “the road”/RV camping.
He recently celebrated 50 years as a Master Mason and was a former member of the Putnam Rotary Club. He was also a member of numerous automobile organizations and won many awards, including, in 2000, a cruise on the Baltic Sea. Bob was also a member of the South Woodstock Baptist Church.
In addition to his daughter, Donna Marie Gilbert (Bruno) of Thompson; he leaves grandchildren Lisa Marie Bernardino (husband Nuno and their son Leonel Gilbert Bernardino) of Portland, CT; grandson Joseph Robert Gilbert (Charleen Amato) of Billerica, Mass., and great grandson Austin Joseph Gilbert; his sister Martha (Robert) Kelleher of Greer, S.C.; special nephew Frank “Buddy” Gomes Jr. (Kelley) of New Hampshire and six nieces, Laurie (Paul) Lyons, Janet (David) Ziegert, Carla (Paul ) Morante, Debra (Paul) Smith, Wendy (Ken) Hellmuth, and Dee (Mark) Ecklund; his sister-in-law Phyllis Gomes of Franklin, Mass.; four stepchildren: Thomas Kearns (wife Suzy and daughter Caroline), John (wife Cindy and twins Jake and Nicole) Anne Marie “Anzie” (Billy) O’Brien, all of Massachusetts, and Eddie Kearns of Utah; former wife Carol (Papanti) Gomes of Massachusetts; friends and colleagues, including Karen White of South Carolina and Mark Jones of Woodstock. He also leaves his longtime companion, Linda L. Lemmon of Putnam. He was predeceased by his parents; oldest brother Al Gomes (and his wife Nancy); his brother Frank Gomes; his second wife, Dianne (Kearns) Gomes; his best friends Forrest “Slim” Manchester and Fred Slater.
Services will be announced later. Donations: South Woodstock Baptist Church, PO Box 86, South Woodstock, CT 06281. (attn: Trish. Memo: “Camperships”) Funeral Arrangements have been entrusted to the Gilman Funeral Home & Crematory, 104 Church St., Putnam.
Like his father, a master with wood (his father created custom rail cars full of intricate inlays), Bob had talent in his hands, be it building/creating, or music …
At Lake Winnipesaukee he bought a Chris Craft that had sunk and completely restored it.
In his early years as a mechanic, he specialized in transmissions. To help him do that job better and faster he created a tool. He said: “The other mechanics were always hovering around my station, trying to get a glimpse of this ‘miracle’ tool in my tool chest (every mechanic’s sacrosanct world). Of course,” he said, “I’d slam that drawer shut.”
He played piano, organ, accordion, mandolin, banjo (he and his father played banjo at church functions) and violin. He never wanted to take violin lessons, but his siblings had already locked up the choice he wanted, piano.
In the 1940s the Gomes Family Orchestra entertained at events, on the radio and even won a talent contest. The orchestra consisted of his father on violin, his brother Al on piano, his brother Frank on clarinet and Bob on violin. Bob played by ear. His mother told the tale of Bob having the music in front of him at concerts but he wasn’t looking at it as he played — he was “cranking his head all around, looking at the audience instead.” Watching his gentle touch on piano keys or the strings of a mandolin was a joy.
I remember watching those hands when his Commander airplane developed a mechanical problem airborne. Heading into Danielson Airport, the three wheels came down, but one of them would not lock. The alarm was shrieking. The plane was full of fuel. I watched his hands as he calmly run through the fixes: Gear up/gear down again (Nope — one wheel still not locking), trying that two more times (nope), releasing the wheels mechanically in an effort to allow gravity to lock the wheel (nope), tipping the plane in the air to help it lock (nope). As the sun was heading down, he had to land. I remember looking at his hands, resting easy on the controls and calmness washed over me. Touching down on the runway the speed initially kept gravity from taking hold and buckling the non-locking wheel. But once slowed the wheel started to buckle. He deftly steered the plane between the runway lights and onto the grass, keeping the propeller from hitting the ground. All was well in his hands.
By Linda Lemmon