The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of Life Trustee Gerald W. Blakeley, Jr., on July 2 at his summer home in Osterville, Mass. He was 100.
Jerry was born November 8, 1920, in Belmont, Mass., to Gerald W. Blakeley, Sr. and Mabel E. (Roy) Blakeley and predeceased by his sister Jean Whitman.
He is the husband of 40 years to surgeon and Olympic figure skating gold medalist Dr. Tenley E. Albright.
Jerry was a life-long sailor who navigated twelve oceans but preferred the waters of Cape Cod and Maine. He believed his best ideas came to him at sea. His flair for multidisciplinary thinking, once criticized as a weakness by a schoolteacher, became Blakeley’s trademark for innovation in real estate development and business. Motivated by a wide curiosity in fields including theology, medicine, physics, and chemistry (he helped invent nylon car upholstery and innovated rechargeable car batteries), Blakeley was a dynamic problem-solver. Blakeley leaves a long and distinguished legacy of trailblazing not only in real estate development but in opening his profession and society to many groups who had been excluded, and in advancing peace and diplomacy on the global stage.
A broad-minded man of principle, he was a visionary. Like his father, Blakeley had an aptitude for science, double majoring in chemistry and physics at Bowdoin College, where later he was elected Overseer in 1960 and Emeritus, 1976. During his college years, he enjoyed boating and learned to fly by joining with classmates to buy a second-hand plane to tinker with, for $35. These skills served him well in World War II. A staunch pacificist, Blakeley refused to participate in war until the attack on Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy, survived a mid-flight fire, and later became a skipper of the USS PC-1264. As one of five white officers on one of only two ships with a predominantly African American crew, his frustration with the prejudice that prevented his crew mates from receiving promotions, opportunities, and GI bill support spurred his interest in creating educational opportunities for all. He believed in humanity, even in wartime.
In 1944 when he guided the PC-1183 through the North Atlantic and forced a German submarine to surface and surrender, he insisted the enemy standing on the deck of the sub be rescued. When he brought the captives on board as POWs his crew protested having to share their dwindling rations of brussels sprouts, saltines, and lemons. “I never regretted my decision to let those men live, and I never ate another brussels sprouts!”
In the booming post-war economy, Blakeley found his calling in the world of commercial and industrial real estate development. Hired by the firm of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes (CC&F) in Boston, Blakeley envisioned the “package plan” for industrial parks in which businesses could identify a building site, acquire financing, design, and construct their buildings all at once. His conceptual thinking changed commuters’ and workers’ lives throughout the state when he developed the ring road, the Route 128 Business Triangle. Chairman at 38 of the exclusively white male Protestant CC&F, Blakeley built on the firm’s reputation for integrity and opened its doors to a diversity of employees. His leadership brought financial innovation and creative vision and the world took notice. Yankee Magazine wrote in a 1960 profile, “Few industrial developers understand how success evolved from Blakeley’s conviction that he could help build a happier society by making marigolds bloom around bricks and mortar.” He was among the proponents of political reform who steered the city of Boston out of decades of decline into a new era of expansion. He had personal stories about almost every building in the city’s skyline. All his offices had a view of the sea from a building he had built, except for his most recent at One International Place. His many businesses came to include the Bay Tower Restaurant and Boston’s venerable Ritz-Carlton Hotel and he received the 1996 Legend of Real Estate Award from The Greater Boston Real Estate Board and the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Association-MA.
He was a gifted and spontaneous speaker known for tearing up his extensive notes before taking the podium. He prided himself on remembering names and details of everyone he met. His network of friends, mentors, and business colleagues spanned political, business, and international society. Whether it was designing industrial parks with amenities such as dining rooms, chapels, and beautiful landscaping—an approach he pioneered—or supporting young scholars, Blakeley believed in giving back. He was active in civic discourse, youth development and mentoring, advocating for social and racial equity and international diplomacy.
Blakeley was friendly with the administrations of several US Presidents, and donated land for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. He enjoyed serving on the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Boston Aquarium, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Bowdoin College, the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and was a founding member of the MIT Center for Real Estate.
In recent years he founded Blakeley Properties with his daughter Amanda and continued to follow world events and climate concerns closely, supporting advancements in research. His lack of interest in alcoholic beverages earned him the nickname “Tea Party” Blakeley. He celebrated business victories, grandchildren’s visits, and every other possible excuse, with coffee ice cream.
Blakeley was delighted to share his joy in love with his wife Dr. Albright through their decades of devotion. His exuberance and enthusiasm—and his harmonica renditions of Happy Birthday—will be missed by all.
He is survived by his wife Tenley E. Albright and his sons Jerry Blakeley III (Boston, MA), Whit Blakeley (Flowery Branch, GA), Brad Blakeley (Boca Raton, FL), Geoff Blakeley (Bedford, MA) with his former wife the late Anne Whitcomb, his daughter Amanda Blakeley (Wellesley, MA) with his former wife the late Polly Figg and her daughters Terry Monell (Mount Pleasant, SC), Jackie Ralston (Boca Raton, FL), and Lilla Rhys Gardiner (Boston, MA), Elin Schran (Jamaica Plain, MA), and Elee Kraljii Gardiner (Vancouver, Canada), his wife Tenley Albright’s daughters. He also is survived by 24 grandchildren: Sarah, Kipper, Ben, Caroline, Patrick, Sam, Madeline, Alexandra, Samantha, Josh, Luke, Elizabeth, Chase, Cerrin, Cameron, Findlay, Halsey, Jessica, Allen, Twyla, Ruby, Phivos, Beatrice, Ivar, and 11 greatgrandchildren.
The family will hold a private service and will announce a Celebration of Life to follow. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Information for this obituary is from the Tribute Archive website.