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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jerry Nash: Business icon championed family, civic involvement, social benevolence

Lucille LaFontaine had become Mrs. Gerald Q. Nash about a year before her husband cheerfully drove her up a long, winding hill over a boulder-strewn dirt road covered with mud and snow in an area so rural she wondered how they could still be in Hudson.

At last reaching their destination, “Jerry” Nash, the iconic city businessman and philanthropist who died Friday at age 90, invited his wife – who was pregnant with their first child at the time – to behold the charming, albeit rustic and quite tiny farmhouse that sat before them. ...

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Lucille LaFontaine had become Mrs. Gerald Q. Nash about a year before her husband cheerfully drove her up a long, winding hill over a boulder-strewn dirt road covered with mud and snow in an area so rural she wondered how they could still be in Hudson.

At last reaching their destination, “Jerry” Nash, the iconic city businessman and philanthropist who died Friday at age 90, invited his wife – who was pregnant with their first child at the time – to behold the charming, albeit rustic and quite tiny farmhouse that sat before them.

“It was rainy, snowy, cold, and we come up to this old, red farmhouse,” Lucille Nash said Tuesday,
recalling the day the old Trigate Farm became home sweet home for the young newlyweds.

“It was three rooms then,” she said with a laugh. “I guess I was just thankful to have a roof over my head. But you know, I think Jerry was so excited because he saw what he could do with it.

And do, Jerry Nash did. From expanding, upgrading and caring for the family homestead, the southeastern Hudson hilltop compound established in 1798 by early town settlers named Merrill, to leading a family business then setting out with an acquaintance named Samuel Tamposi Sr. to take by storm the real estate market in New Hampshire – and Florida – all the while finding ample time for civic volunteering and doting on and sharing quality time with his growing family, there wasn’t much Jerry Nash didn’t do.

Gerald Quentin Nash died like he lived: Confident, controlled and organized. Earlier this summer, knowing his time was growing short, he ordered a houseful of replacement windows, something he knew needed doing but was also pretty sure it was one of those chores that would languish after his death.

“He wanted it to get done,” said Lucille Nash, a spry, talkative 89-year-old who met her future husband on a blind date at college more than 65 years ago. “He knew he didn’t have much longer.”

It was Jerry Nash’s final bit of home improvement, a perpetual project that began with plugging leaks, adding indoor plumbing, turning the outhouse into a shed and gradually moving into the expansion stage to accommodate the growing family.

Lucille Nash laughs recalling that blind date, set up by a friend whose boyfriend was Jerry Nash’s roommate at Keene State College, which Nash attended for a year between returning from the service and entering Boston University.

“Oh, he was fresh,” Lucille Nash said, prompting a round of laughter from other family members present. “I guess it was because he’d just come out of the service.

I told my friend I didn’t want to see him again. But she talked with her boyfriend, he talked with Jerry, and Jerry was the perfect gentleman from then on.”

By all accounts, the work ethic that defined Jerry Nash wasn’t taught and learned, but was already present when Ralph and Lillian Nash welcomed their fifth child on Oct. 6, 1923, and named him Gerald Quentin.

“Every day except Sunday was a work day,” Lucille Nash remembers. “Sunday was family time. When Jerry was working, it was all business. When he wasn’t, it was all family.”

She recalls her husband rising early each day to be the first to arrive at Nashua Paper Box, his father’s Water Street firm that Nash later co-owned with his brother Ralph.

“He got there first, to check the machines, because he was the only one who could fix them,” Lucille Nash said. The firm manufactured a few other products over the years, including the hula hoop, the remarkably basic and simple toy that nevertheless became central to early 1960s American culture.

“They just made plain, red ones and blue ones,” said youngest daughter Becky Nash Mitchell. “Dad got involved in toy collecting after that, then started making trunks at his shop to bring his collections to toy fairs.”

One year he happened to set up next to representatives of a company called the Ohio Art Co., who were unveiling the firm’s newest product they called the Etch A Sketch.

“Of course he brought one home,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “We were probably the first kids around to have one.”

It was later in the 1960s when Nash, at a poker game, was introduced to fellow Nashua businessman Sam Tamposi. At first teaming up on some smaller real estate ventures, the men would one day form one of the best-known and most successful real estate and development partnerships ever.

Soon, “Nash-Tamposi” signs became as common as corn stalks and apple trees throughout southern New Hampshire. Commercial and industrial development, Tamposi told Nash, “is where the future of this area is.”

For such a powerful business entity, the men needed only a simple, time-proven method of deciding whose name should come first on the signs. “They flipped a coin,” Lucille Nash said. “Jerry won, so it was Nash-Tamposi.”

Every time Jerry Nash was in the newspaper, received a high-profile letter or was issued a commendation, his wife clipped and pasted, the old-fashioned way. The result is a sky-high stack of scrapbooks marking enough business, personal, political and civic accomplishments for 10 men.

His military service is no exception to his desire to over achieve. Attached to the Army’s famed 10th Mountain Division, he received the Bronze Star for bravery in spring 1945 for his work keeping vital communications open during critical battles.

Jeff Clegg said he holds dear one of his grandfather’s war stories.

“He told me he found a mattress, and kept stuffing it in supply trucks to hide it from the officers. When they found it and ordered him to get rid of it, he stuffed it into another truck.”

“He loved to tell me how he always slept more comfortably than other solders,” Clegg said.

Among Jessica Clegg’s favorite memories of her grandfather is his desire to be “the life of the party,” a sharp contrast to the button-down, razor-sharp business negotiator who owned many a boardroom over the years.

“It didn’t always look so good,” she said with a laugh of Nash’s efforts on the dance floor.

“But he was quite good at one time,” Lucille Nash interjected, recalling the couple’s jitterbug exploits. “He’d dip me down, I’d slide between his feet on the floor. One time he let go, and I slid right under a table.”

Mark Nash remembers a robust, active father who took his kids and friends camping in the mountains, rafting in the Grand Canyon, canoeing the Rio Grande and made sure they spent some time at lake and beach houses he owned at various times.

“He wasn’t a man to spend a lot on himself,” Nash said this week. “He never flew first class. But he was big on friends and family. He spared nothing when it came to them.”

Like all of Jerry and Lucille Nash’s kids, Mark Nash works for the family business his father created decades ago. While a tough negotiator, Jerry Nash “wasn’t there to cut your legs off, but you knew where you stood when you dealt with him.”

There were times, he said, that closed-door negotiations got so intense that “you’d swear someone is about to be murdered in the conference room.”

“But then the door would open, and they’d all be talking about where to go for lunch.”

Jeff Clegg, meanwhile, admired his grandfather on many fronts, but especially for his commitment to give back to a society and community that treated him very well.

“When he did something, he didn’t feel the need to tell people about it,” Clegg said, prompting family members to cite several stories of “we never knew he donated to … until now.”

“He always told me, ‘if you tell people every time you do something (to help others), then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,’” Jessica Clegg said.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s celebration of his father’s life, Mark Nash said the family is planning to do something his father never did.

“He was never good at tooting his own horn,” he said. “Well, we’re going to toot it for him.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).