Gerald W. Blakeley Jr. '43 (1920–2021)
To trustees emeriti,
I write with the sad news that Gerald Walter Blakeley Jr., a member of the Class of 1943 and overseer of the College emeritus, died in Osterville, Massachusetts, on July 2 at the age of 100.
Jerry was an innovative developer whose work in commercial real estate, beginning in earnest in the 1950s, changed the landscape of greater Boston and had a deep impact nationwide. Jerry was a philanthropist, a veteran of World War II, and the father of two Bowdoin graduates.
Born November 8, 1920, in Newton, Massachusetts, Jerry grew up in Belmont and graduated from Belmont High School. He entered Bowdoin in 1939 as a member of the Class of 1943. Three of his first cousins were already at Bowdoin and a fourth was enrolled in his class. At Bowdoin, he majored in chemistry and was in the Bowdoin Christian Association. He was a member of Zeta Psi and participated in the debate and tennis teams, and the yacht and skiing clubs.
He worked long hours at the Pejepscot Paper Company mill in Topsham starting in his junior year at Bowdoin. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy as a pilot. He kept in touch with the College, writing Dean Paul Nixon that he missed Bowdoin but “there is compensation in the feeling that we’re in the thing now, and will soon be fighting for what we feel the world should be.” He attended the Deck School at Cornell as part of his naval training and went on to serve as a fighter pilot on the USS Victor in the Caribbean and Pacific.
He left the service in 1946 and worked briefly as a cotton broker before entering commercial real estate with Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, Inc. He was just twenty-six years of age in the fall of 1947 when he interviewed with the firm’s last founding member, Murray Forbes, and convinced Forbes to give him a shot at building industrial parks. Five years later, Forbes turned that division of the company over to Jerry. He became president of the company in 1958 and was later the owner. By the time he was forty, Jerry was one of the most prominent industrial real estate developers on the East Coast.
He formally received his Bowdoin degree in 1960, after having taken night classes at Boston University to finish his coursework. In the same year that he received his degree, he became a member of Bowdoin's board of overseers. He was named chairman of the Corporations Division of Bowdoin’s 175th Anniversary Campaign. He served on the College's board of overseers until 1976, when he was elected overseer emeritus.
Jerry was a pioneer in the creation of corporate office parks, developing an estimated 70 percent of the commercial real estate along Boston’s Route 128, as well as many of Boston’s first office towers. For twenty-eight years, he was owner of the Ritz-Carlton Corporation. He was chosen as one of the first recipients of the “Real Estate Legends” award by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board in 1995. He gave Mort Zuckerman his start in business (a 2007 New Yorkerprofile of Zuckerman called Jerry a “surrogate father” to the tycoon). Jerry had what was described as a “golden touch,” and it extended to real estate projects in Florida, New Mexico, Texas, and California, where he helped establish Laguna Niguel, one of the first master planned communities in the state. He also built a ski resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. After selling Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, in 1982, Jerry founded Blakeley Investment Company.
Jerry once told Fortune magazine that he was “desperately determined not to be remembered as a businessman,” and he did so much else with his life that it is easy to remember him as much more than that. He was committed to civic work, both in Boston and on a national scale. He served on the boards or as a trustee for many foundations and institutions, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the New England Aquarium, and the Coast Guard Foundation. He was especially committed to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (where he was a life member of the National Board of Governors) and the Morehouse School of Medicine. He also served as chair of the board of the World Affairs Council as chair of the board of trustees of Pine Manor Junior College, as an overseer of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and as a trustee of Boston University.
Jerry is survived by his wife, Dr. Tenley Albright, a surgeon and Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, whom he married in 1981. He and his first wife, Anne Whitcomb, had four sons, who survive him: Gerald III, Bradford ’75, Robert, and Geoffrey ’76. He and his second wife, Polly, had a daughter, Amanda Blakeley, who worked closely with her father in Blakely Properties, a business they founded together.
The family will hold a private memorial service for Jerry; a celebration of his life will be announced at a later date.
We join the family in celebrating Jerry's life and his remarkable contributions to society. He shaped not only the landscape of the greater Boston area but also the region's economic history, the growth of communities, and opportunities for careers for more than half a century. His legacy endures in the built environment in Massachusetts, in other states where he undertook real estate ventures, and in the lives of those he touched with his public service.