Happy 100th birthday, Mrs. G: Grappone matriarch sold cars with a smile

  • Ruth Grappone (left) celebrates her 100th birthday with longtime friend Gloria Monahan (center) and son Allen Grappone at the Harris Hill Center on Saturday in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Ruth Grappone smiles during her 100th birthday party with family and friends at the Harris Hill Center in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Ruth Grappone cuts her own cake to celebrate her 100th birthday with family and friends at the Harris Hill Family Center of seniors in Concord on Saturday. Grappone is the matriarch of the well-known family and its group of car dealerships in Bow. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/27/2019 6:14:48 PM

Customers at the dealership still wonder what happened to Ruth Grappone, better known as Mrs. G.

Where’s that smile they grew accustomed to, the laughter, the chatter, the welcome mat she symbolized, making a stressful procedure a lot more comfortable?

Buying a car? Yuck. Thank goodness Mrs. G will be there.

Well, for those still wondering, Mrs. G retired less than two years ago, at the age of 98. On Saturday, at her home at the Harris Hill Center for seniors, family, some of whom flew up from Florida, and several people from the Grappone staff celebrated her 100th birthday.

They ate sandwiches and salad, watched the guest of honor light the three candles that formed the number 100 on top of the cake, and described what Mrs. G, a matriarch of the well-known family business through marriage, meant to the operation.

She served as an ambassador, the first person to greet you on your way in.

“She always had her table, her Mrs. G table,” said Vickie Kaspszak, who’s worked at the dealership for 36 years. “We still have people who ask for her. It just happened two weeks ago. ‘Is Mrs. G coming in?’ I tell them that unfortunately for us, she’s decided to rest.”

She deserves it, after working six days a week, right up until retirement. Grappone Ford, more than any other branch included in this empire, became Mrs. G’s second home after she married John Grappone, whose mother and father had started the family business with the purchase of a filling station in 1924. Car sales began five years later.

Since then, the Grappone name has remained omnipresent, yet Ruth never lost the nickname that seemed to make everyone smile.

She wasn’t Ruth Grappone. She was Mrs. G. It said so right on her nametag, the one she still has in her room.

About a dozen or so guests sat at a long table, with Mrs. G and her wheelchair at the head and silver balloons spelling out ‘100’ off to her left. Mrs. G, whose smooth silver and white hair shone in the light, still does crossword puzzles because, she told me, “It keeps me busy. It keeps your brain busy every day.”

Staying busy was always the goal for Mrs. G. That’s why she kept going to the dealership, even on Saturdays, as her 100th birthday peeked over the horizon.

Gloria Monahan, Mrs. G’s friend and caregiver for 20 years, drove her to work each morning, 9 a.m. sharp. Monahan made Mrs. G lunch each day, packing a sandwich and a banana into a paper bag. She stopped on the way to buy Mrs. G coffee to go, cream only. She picked her up at 4 p.m.

“If I got there early, I was in trouble,” Monahan told me.

That’s because there was no corner-cutting for this employee, no going home early. Mrs. G wouldn’t hear of it. She was told by her doctor that working well into her 90s was good for her health.

And besides, she loved it.

“She chatted with the guests,” said Jon Laramie, Mrs. G’s grandson, here from Florida. “She made sure that everyone was happy and at ease.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. G added.

George Young worked at Grappone for 50 years, and he still puts in a few hours a week. His recollection of Mrs. G showed how unpretentious she was, despite the family’s wealth.

“An awesome boss,” Young said. “Once I was waiting in line to renew my driver’s license and she was there. She said hi to me, and I was really surprised she knew who I was.”

Glen Laramie, another grandson, called Mrs. G “Generous, interested in how people were doing, always smiling, inquisitive.”

Those qualities sold cars. More than that, though, those qualities sold warmth and trust, always welcome, sometimes rare, when it comes to dealing with those who sell cars.

“We have not sold as many cars since you left,” one employee said to Mrs. G shortly after she retired. “If you don’t come back soon, we’re going to have to cut your pay.”

Bob McCullen, the senior team leader at Grappone’s, has worked there for 11 years. He mentioned Mrs. G’s work ethic, the passion and motivation that pushed her to get to the dealership each day, well into her 90s.

“If we were working on a holiday weekend, she’d show up, even on a Sunday,” McCullen said. “If we were working, she was working. She served as a great role model.”

McCullen said that even after retirement, Mrs. G called the dealership, usually at 7:55 p.m. sharp, five minutes before closing. “Okay,” she’d say, “how many cars did we sell today?”

“She was always there,” added Ivan Klopfenstein, a master technician for Grappone. “She was dearly loved by all while she was working there. To her, it was more than a business; it was a family.”

Family members who couldn’t make it called. Madisyn Laramie, John’s daughter and Mrs. G’s great-granddaughter, sang happy birthday while facetiming on her cell phone.

Amanda Osmer of Canterbury, who now runs the family business, also called. Bad weather forced the cancellation of her flight from Florida as she tried to get home to celebrate her grandmother’s 100th.

Reached by phone the day before Mrs. G’s birthday, Osmer told me, “She would chat with guests and make sure she was available if people wanted to talk about the old days. She moved into Harris Hill and wanted to be where the action was, so she asked for the room near the nurses’ station to hang out and watch the people come and go.”

At 12:17 p.m. Saturday, Monahan, the longtime caregiver, wheeled Mrs. G to the white chocolate and raspberry birthday cake, baked by George Young’s wife, Tresea.

Mrs. G cut the first piece, working hard to push the knife through. Hard work never bothered her.

“I love everybody,” Mrs. G said. “There are such wonderful people here.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304,
or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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