Inside the no-frills Brockton gym he ran with his brother for 42 years, boxing trainer Goody Petronelli turned a teenage high school dropout into the middleweight champion who became known as Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
When Hagler showed up at the beginning of the 1970s, a refugee of riot-torn Newark, he had holes in his sneakers and nothing in his pockets.
“I believe Goody Petronelli was the best trainer in the world,’’ said Hagler, who thought of the Petronelli brothers, Goody and Pat, as the foundation of his career for 20 years. “Besides that, he was an unbelievably great human being who loved his family very much.’’
Mr. Petronelli, 88, died Jan. 29 at his home in Bourne. His family said he had been in good health, but “died of a broken heart’’ after his wife, Pat, who was 84, died in October, not long after his 89-year-old brother, Pat, died in September of complications of a stroke.
Mr. Petronelli had closed the Brockton gym he ran with his brother and collected his things during an emotional visit Jan. 5, his family said.
“Goody dedicated his life to the love of boxing, and he couldn’t do without it,’’ Hagler, who now lives in Milan, said in a statement released by his agent, Olaf Schroeder. “I believe that after his brother Pat died and then his wife passed away, there was nothing left for him to do. I’m glad he walked away peacefully. Thank you, Goody, for all you did for me. Rest in peace. I’m really going to miss you.’’
Mr. Petronelli’s family said his love of boxing was equaled only by his love for his wife. They met in a cafe when he was a 19-year-old US Navy sailor stationed near her hometown of Wilmington, Del., and Marian Gorman, who was known as Pat, was 16.
“He really missed my mother,’’ said Mr. Petronelli’s daughter Carrie. “He was such a good father and a good husband.’’
The couple married in 1943, just before Mr. Petronelli shipped out to the South Pacific. He served on the USS Bon Richard and was among the sailors who entered Japan after the United States dropped atomic bombs, according to his family.
Mr. Petronelli’s naval career later took their family to Detroit, South Weymouth, and California. He retired from the Navy in 1969.
Born in Milford, Guerino Petronelli was one of 12 children whose parents were Italian immigrants. His father was a mason, and his mother was a homemaker.
Mr. Petronelli graduated from Brockton High School and used to shoot craps and climb fences with Rocky Marciano, who grew up to become an undefeated heavyweight champion.
The Petronelli brothers had planned to open a gym with Marciano. But in 1969, Mr. Petronelli was driving across the country from California to start the new business when he learned that Marciano had died in a plane crash.
The brothers opened their first gym and welcomed anyone who wanted to learn to fight.
‘I believe Goody Petronelli was the best trainer in the world.’
In addition to Hagler, their top fighters later included Mr. Petronelli’s nephew Anthony of Easton, who was a North American Boxing Federation light welterweight champion; Hagler’s half-brother Robbie Sims; and Irish heavyweight Kevin McBride, who ended Mike Tyson’s career with a sixth-round technical knockout in 2005.
Mr. Petronelli was known for impressing an intense work ethic on fighters, including a rigorous regime of road work. He also was known for his wit and his cool head in the corner.
Brockton trainer Roger “Pit’’ Perron, who learned his profession from Mr. Petronelli when he walked into the gym in 1969, spoke in an interview about a night at Foxwoods in the 1990s when he and Mr. Petronelli were in the corner for fighter Johnny Bizzarro.
Bizzarro was being pummeled by Roger Mayweather, and Mr. Petronelli wanted to throw in the towel in the seventh round, but Bizzarro insisted he was holding his own.
“I’ll let it go,’’ Mr. Petronelli told him, “but in this next round, I’m going to keep an eye on the referee, because somebody in there is messing up your face pretty good.’’
In a 1974 interview, he said he knew Hagler had great potential after their first meeting, when Mr. Petronelli showed him a few boxing moves.
“Marvin came back the next day, and I was surprised at how he seemed to have improved overnight,’’ Mr. Petronelli said. “But then he told me he went home and had practiced the things I taught him in front of the mirror.’’
Hagler was middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987, when he lost in a controversial decision to Sugar Ray Leonard. The Petronellis joined a chorus of boxing watchers who maintained that the judges erred.
“Even after I retired from boxing, we never lost contact,’’ said Hagler, who retired from the sport and starred in Italian action films. “We were always in touch. The Petronellis were honest people and down to earth. Despite all they did for me, the boxing world never gave them the recognition they deserved.’’
At Mr. Petronelli’s funeral Friday in Middleborough, photos of his training sessions with Hagler were displayed. In one image, Mr. Petronelli was running alongside Hagler on an empty road. In others, he held up mitts to absorb Hagler’s fierce blows.
Inside his casket were a pair of red boxing gloves. His Navy cap was placed near his pillow.
“He’s been my hero,’’ his oldest son Joseph of Hudson, Fla., told mourners. “One more round today. That’s my dad.’’
In addition to his daughter and son, Mr. Petronelli leaves another son, David of Middleborough; three sisters, Rose Clark of Hyannis, Eleanor Walsh of Bridgewater, and Lorraine Santorro of Brockton; four brothers, Teo “Nick’’ of Brockton, Guido of Hanson, Ronald of West Bridgewater, and Henry of Brockton; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
At Pine Hill Cemetery in West Bridgewater, representatives of the National Veteran Boxers Association rang a boxing bell 10 times as an official barked out the count.
Mr. Petronelli’s great-granddaughter Jodie Noone said he was an inspiration.
“I’m so proud of Poppa, of what he did and who he was,’’ Noone said. “He loved his family. He loved his fighters. . . . He wanted to be a somebody in this world, and he wanted everybody else to do the same.’’J.M. Lawrence can be reached as firstname.lastname@example.org.