<< (Back) In Memory of Frank

Giamartino dies from car accident


Wednesday, June 21

BRATTLEBORO -- Junior Brown blasted from the speakers at Hotel Pharmacy Tuesday afternoon. Customers wandered the aisles. Some stood at the counter, chatting with staff like they were old friends. And all the while, the phones rang relentlessly.

The collective noise and the way Brown's twangy riffs bounced off the walls -- walls bedecked with New York Mets banners -- made it feel kind of like a party.

In other words, it was like most afternoons at the pharmacy. Except for one glaring, grievous, almost unbearable difference: its owner, Frank Giamartino, was not there.

Giamartino, 53, of Newfane, died Monday from injuries sustained in a car crash. Around 7:30 p.m., just after a brief but heavy rain, he veered off the west side of Route 30 and into the woods. He was on his way home from a Babe Ruth game in Brattleboro, where he was umpire.

His sudden death was a shock to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people he's met and befriended in the community over the years.

It was certainly no less to the 20 or so employees at Hotel Pharmacy. They all showed up at work Tuesday morning to keep the business running, and to be together. They'd spent much of the previous night that way, gathered at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital with Giamartino's wife Mary, and other family and friends, to receive the news Giamartino's death.

Still it was no question, employees said, whether they'd open the pharmacy Tuesday. It'll stay open this week, and close only on Saturday for Giamartino's funeral.

"He wouldn't want it any other way," said Jodi Harrison, a technician at the pharmacy for the last 11 years. "He'd want it to be business as usual."

Giamartino moved to the area from New York in 1976 and began working for David Hoefer, former owner of the pharmacy. Back then, the shop was still on the opposite side of Elliot Street, below the Common Ground. In 1982, Giamartino bought the business. In the 1990's, he moved it across the street to the old Methodist Church.

He was beloved by many for his work as a pharmacist, but beloved by more -- even by his customers -- for his actions as a person. He didn't let anyone leave the store without the prescription they needed, regardless of whether or not they had the money or the insurance coverage to pay for it.

It's worth noting that earlier this year, when the government shifted the way Medicare patients receive prescription drug coverage, it was Giamartino, among other local pharmacists, who helped thousands of local people navigate the bureaucratic mess. Several customers interviewed by the Reformer at the time called Giamartino a "hero."

Many described Giamartino's death as a tragedy Tuesday, but recognized it as particularly mournful in light of the March 2001 death of Giamartino's son, Nicholas. He was 17. He died suddenly, in his sleep, from sepsis, an infection the family didn't know was there.

"The only good thing about this," Mary Giamartino said of her husband's death, "is that every day he won't have to wake up and say 'I love you, Nick. I miss you.'"

"He said it every day before he did his exercises and ate his oatmeal with maple syrup."

Mary Giamartino spoke to the Reformer Tuesday evening from her home, where more than 200 people -- friends from the community and relatives from out-of-state -- surrounded her. In the background, Billy Joel's "Piano Man" was turned way up.

Giamartino wasn't more than 5'4", but most people didn't realize that, friend Ingrid Chrisco said, because his personality was mammoth. He teased, he had an enormous laugh and he'd talk to anyone.

"Frank is one of those rare people," Chrisco said. "You mention his name and spontaneously someone will erupt with a story about him ... he had a rare ability to develop the best in people."

State police are still investigating the accident that led to Giamartino's death. They say he lost control of his 2000 BMW after trying to pass two vehicles. His car was totaled. Rescue Inc., transported him to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No other injuries were reported in the accident.

The family has requested that memorial gifts for Giamartino be made to a scholarship fund created in Nicholas' name. Donations may me made to the Nicholas James Eugene Giamartino Scholarship Fund, c/o Brattleboro Union High School, 131 Fairground Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301, Attn. Kathy Rouleau.

Anticipating a large turnout for Giamartino's funeral service, the high school gymnasium has been reserved for viewing Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., and on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m. Burial will be Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Michael's Catholic Church.

There were no shortage of stories about Giamartino circulating the community Tuesday. One favorite was about the surprise party he organized for his wife Mary last September. In front of hundreds of friends and family members at the Putney Inn, Giamartino joined the band hired to play the event and serenaded his wife with Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are."

Giamartino was many things, friends said, remembering that night, but a talented vocalist was not one of them. The band struggled more than once to find precisely what key he was singing in.

An obituary appears on Page 12.

Baseball was, in many ways, the center of Giamartino's life. He was umpire to hundreds of Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion and high school games.

He also claimed to be the world's biggest Mets fan, and it's possible he was. As a child, he had a cat named Cleon Jones, a player from the team's halcyon days. He made frequent trips to Shea Stadium, and was there on this Father's Day with his wife and son Vincent, 24. And he had a wish to have his ashes buried under home plate at the park.

"We'll probably find a way," Kelly Cross, a family friend, said Tuesday.

It is a bittersweet fact that right now, for the first time in a long time, the Mets are in first place.