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Gerald W. Blakeley Jr., visionary developer of Boston’s ‘high-tech highway,’ dies at 100

Gerald W. Blakeley Jr. and his wife, Dr. Tenley Albright.

At 4 a.m. one morning in 1948, an epiphany awakened Gerald W. Blakeley Jr., who had been studying regional transportation officials’ plans to revamp the Circumferential Highway into the modern-era Route 128. Doing so, he realized, could turn the loop around Boston into a magnet for high-tech companies.

He knew those firms would want to be close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but “there isn’t room in Cambridge and Somerville.” The plans for the highway and connecting express roads, however, would suddenly leave certain communities a short drive from MIT.

“I got up with a yellow pad and went into the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake my wife and wrote seven pages of notes,” he recalled in a 2001 Globe interview about the inspiration that led him to become a pioneering developer of industrial parks along Route 128.

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Mr. Blakeley, whose legacy as one of Greater Boston’s most significant developers included serving as a mentor to those who followed him into the business, was 100 when he died Friday in his Osterville home.

“Jerry never saw a problem that he couldn’t turn into an opportunity,” the developer Don Chiofaro said in an interview.

Among Mr. Blakeley’s long-ago ideas was to create industrial parks that looked like the prep school and college campuses from which high-tech engineers were emerging, rather than the New England factories and mills of old.

By creating inviting facilities that felt at home among trees and nature, he played a role in jumpstarting the growth of Boston’s suburbs.

In a 2010 tribute video, when Mr. Blakeley received a lifetime achievement award from the national commercial real estate association NAIOP, he was hailed for training his successors.

“Jerry mentored the next generation of real estate developers: Mort Zuckerman, Ed Linde, Hank Spaulding, [Ferdinand] Colloredo-Mansfeld, Don Chiofaro, and Ken Himmel, just to name a few,” Robert L. Beal, who died last year and had been president of The Beal Cos., said in the video.

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Recalling his own time as a protégé of Mr. Blakeley, Zuckerman said in the video that he “was easiest man in the world to talk to. I could not have had a better teacher coming into the business than Jerry Blakeley.”

Mr. Blakeley joined the Cabot, Cabot & Forbes real estate development firm in the late-1940s and headed its industrial division until becoming president in 1957.

Nearly two decades later he became chairman, and the firm was sold to Chicago-based Field Enterprises in 1979. By then Mr. Blakeley had bought out the Cabot and Forbes families and was the majority owner.

He founded Blakeley Investment Co. after selling Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, and later established the Blakeley Properties real estate firm with his family. He also owned the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston for many years.

During the 1960s, under his leadership at Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, the firm became a major developer of downtown Boston properties that included New England Merchants National Bank and the buildings for Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“You can look out any window of any office building in Boston and see a building that Jerry built,” Chiofaro said in the 2010 tribute video, adding that “Jerry built all of the big buildings in Boston for about 20 years.”

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Mr. Blakeley also expanded the reach of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes to states and regions such as Georgia, Florida, California, and the Southwest, with industrial parks, high-rise buildings, and about 14 branch offices across the country.

“Jerry was a national developer with an international reputation,” Chiofaro said.

The older of two siblings, Gerald W. Blakeley Jr. was born on Nov. 8, 1920, and grew up in Belmont.

His mother, Mable E. Roy, had been an opera singer, and his father, Gerald Sr., was a physics professor at MIT, and then a consulting engineer.

Mr. Blakeley graduated from Belmont High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College in Maine, where he studied biochemistry and physics.

Though he had been a pacifist, he joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor was attacked during World War II.

Initially a pilot — he had learned to fly while at Bowdoin — Mr. Blakeley later was the skipper of a submarine chaser, according to his family.

His family said his experience serving as one of five white officers commanding a predominantly Black crew, and his frustration at the exclusionary racism that was essentially built into the GI Bill, prompted his involvement with the board of the Morehouse School of Medicine, then a part of Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta.

Mr. Blakeley had chaired the medical school’s board and served on numerous other boards, paying particular attention to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and its Greater Boston locations.

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“He really was devoted to the Boys and Girls Clubs,” said his wife, Dr. Tenley Albright. “He was always a wonderful mentor to young people.”

Mr. Blakeley formerly was married to Anne Whitcomb, with whom he had four sons, and Polly Figg, with whom he had a daughter. Those marriages ended in divorce.

In 1981, he married Albright, a surgeon who had been an Olympic figure skating champion.

“I loved it that he had so many, many different interests and had such enthusiasm and was such a positive person,” she said.

For impromptu, one-on-on business meetings, Mr. Blakeley liked to talk over a serving of coffee ice cream, and he performed “Happy Birthday” on a harmonica for each of his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A lifelong sailor, he navigated waters around the world.

“He would go anyplace in the world from any part of any ocean,” his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Blakeley leaves his four sons, Gerald III of Boston, Whit of Flowery Branch, Ga., Brad of Boca Raton, Fla., and Geoff of Bedford; his daughter, Amanda of Wellesley; two stepdaughters with Polly, Terry Monell of Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Jackie Ralston of Boca Raton; three stepdaughters with Albright, Lilla Rhys Gardiner of Boston; Elin Schran of Jamaica Plain, and Elee Kraljii Gardiner of Vancouver, British Columbia; 24 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren.

The family will hold a private service and will announce a celebration of Mr. Blakeley’s life.

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As a leader and a mentor, “Jerry had bright lines on behavior,” Chiofaro said in an interview.

“They were as bright as could be,” he added. “For Jerry, there was no ‘cutting corners.’ You stayed inside the bright lines. That was the code of conduct.”

And that, Chiofaro said, was an essential part of Mr. Blakeley’s approach to fostering a generation of developers.

“There is no developer that I know of that created more developers,” he said. “You go into any city where Jerry had a presence and you could name five guys in the development business who came out of Jerry’s operation.”

In the 2010 tribute video, the developer Hank Spaulding, who died the following year, echoed the words Mr. Blakeley often used to explain his own success.

Spaulding recalled that his mentor said that “if you want to do something, go do it, but surround yourself with some good smart people that have the same energy and desire to help other people, and to do something that’s good for the community.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.