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    Robert Gustin, creative force of advertising firm; at 58

    Robert Gustin opened his Franklin firm in 1998.
    Robert Gustin opened his Franklin firm in 1998.

    During the 12- to 14-hour days Robert Ellsworth Gustin III worked at his company, Gustin Advertising, he often could be heard on the phone with clients, letting loose with what family and friends described as an intoxicating, endearing laugh that caused chuckles to ripple through the rest of the office.

    His wife, Sally, had given him a plaque inscribed with the word “President,” but he kept it in a drawer in his desk. And he never put his title on business cards, which identified him as Bob, because that’s how clients knew him.

    Debra Martin, one of the first employees to join the Franklin firm, said she was always impressed with how Mr. Gustin steered the business through changes as the Internet revolutionized the industry.


    “His philosophy was if you can dream it, you can have it,” Sally said.

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    Mr. Gustin, who was the chief executive and creative director of his company, died of lung disease May 27 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 58 and lived in Franklin.

    An artist at heart, Mr. Gustin conducted his advertising business with the same creativity he brought to oil painting, woodworking, and dancing, his wife said.

    He paired his artistic flair with a perfectionist’s work ethic in which he took great pride, she said, and he often delivered six examples of possible advertisements to a client who had only asked for two.

    Mr. Gustin liked to have fun, and during his 50th birthday party, he and his high school friends regaled family and coworkers with energetic disco dancing. At work, however, he proved adaptable to the rapid evolution of his industry.


    “And he was able to recognize art and beauty in almost everything,” Sally said.

    Born in South Boston, Mr. Gustin developed a love for the city that he proudly displayed to visiting relatives by leading them on sightseeing tours.

    Mr. Gustin grew up in Saugus and Revere. His first job was delivering newspapers and he quickly moved on to work at his uncle’s ice cream shop.

    “He was always most proud of his youth in terms of his working,” his wife said. “He just really thought he developed a good work ethic from those jobs he had.”

    Early in his life, Mr. Gustin knew he wanted to pursue a career in artistic design. After graduating from Malden Catholic High School in 1973, he took drawing classes at Bunker Hill Community College, although he left before completing his degree.


    For several years, his path diverged from the arts while he worked an eclectic series of jobs, including as a shoe salesman for Thom McAn and a quality control officer for New England Shrimp Co., for which he spent the vast majority of each day tasting shrimp.

    Mr. Gustin enjoyed the shrimp, his wife said, but the job left something to be desired.

    “He would get embarrassed when he would go into a bank to cash his check and people would wrinkle their noses at him because he always smelled like shrimp,” she recalled.

    In 1980, Mr. Gustin started out as an account executive for the advertising firm David Wilson Associates, where he worked for 17 years.

    He developed a reputation as a disciplined worker who was not above being mischievous.

    One year, as he passed by Faneuil Hall before the office’s Christmas party, he struck up conversation with a band playing carols outside, his wife said. He ended up inviting the six musicians to the party, where his coworkers were caught by surprise as the horns blared when they entered.

    Mr. Gustin met Sally Thies in 1985, and she said she first realized how much she loved him during a road trip they took to her native Illinois in 1986.

    Mr. Gustin, microscopically familiar with Eastern Massachusetts, had never traveled outside of New England. He was struck by the flatness of the Midwest and fascinated by the fields upon fields of grain.

    “We stopped at a wheat field and he got out and touched the wheat,” his wife said. “He broke off a piece and put it in his mouth, just like I’m sure he had seen in the movies, and made me take a picture while he posed. That was the first time I thought, ‘Hey, this guy really is a keeper.’”

    In 1998, the couple founded Gustin Advertising out of their Franklin home. Within a year the business was so successful they had to rent an office.

    “He was a sponge for information and ideas,” said Martin, who recalled how Mr. Gustin could always be found in his office reading the latest industry newsletters and journals.

    His research served him well when others in the industry did not adapt as readily to the Internet age and faltered, she said.

    Mr. Gustin realized early on that “times were changing, and we would either have to change with the times or go out of business,” Martin said.

    In addition to his wife, Mr. Gustin leaves three children, Jessalyn of Middletown Springs, Vt., Andrew Robert of Walpole, and Casey of Franklin; his mother, Ann E. (Sweeney) Gustin LaCortiglia of Braintree; four sisters, Ann Louise Gustin Lynch of Braintree; and Cheryl Gustin Tervakoski, Alice McConville, and Deborah Matthies, all of Quincy; and four brothers, Kenneth of Rockland, Richard of Bridgewater, and William and David, both of Quincy; a stepbrother, John LaCortiglia of Melrose; and two grandchildren.

    A service has been held.

    Todd Feathers can be reached at