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    Charlie Gilbert, 101; born on the day Fenway Park opened

    Last year on April 20, Charlie Gilbert sat in Fenway Park, unique among fans attending that day. It was his 100th birthday, and also the anniversary of the day Fenway opened in 1912.

    Because he shared a centennial with the park, his family asked the Red Sox to let him throw out the game’s first pitch. After considering the request, team officials decided instead to honor Mr. Gilbert during the game, and at one point he appeared on the park’s video monitor.

    “He was up there on the big screen, tipping his hat,” said his daughter, Ethel Curelop of Brockton. “I think that was better than throwing the pitch.”


    Mr. Gilbert, who by his family’s accounts could never match the enthusiasm his late wife, Mary, had for the Red Sox, died Aug. 3 in the VA Hospital in Brockton. He was 101 and had lived in Brookline.

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    “It’s amazing the things that I do remember that happened way back then,” Mr. Gilbert said in a Globe video.

    “Ted Williams, I was fascinated by him, and Babe Ruth,” he added.

    Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2012
    Family members surrounded Mr. Gilbert last year. Clockwise from left were Louise and Ari Curelop, Harvey Gilbert, and Mark, Ethel, Gary, Samantha, and Craig Curelop.

    Still, it was his wife who helped instill a love for the Red Sox within their family because Mr. Gilbert was secretly a Boston Braves fan until that team moved to Milwaukee in 1953.

    Mary Gilbert, who was never far from a radio whenever a Red Sox game was on, died Oct. 23, 2004, the first day of a World Series that the Red Sox won with four straight victories.


    Even though Mr. Gilbert preferred the Braves, he always made an effort to take his family to Red Sox games on spring and summer afternoons, before lights were installed at Fenway.

    “He was a working man, so this was his treat from time to time,” said his son, Harvey of State College, Pa. “I remember going to the games and sitting in the bleachers, the ones way out.”

    Mr. Gilbert was 99 when he spoke to the Globe, when his great-grandson Craig Curelop was lobbying the Red Sox to let Mr. Gilbert throw out the opening pitch.

    By then, age had made many of Mr. Gilbert’s specific memories fade. “I was disappointed when they lost and felt, you know, a lot better when they won,” he said of the Red Sox.

    Mr. Gilbert was the third of four children of Russian immigrants Edward Gilbert and the former Gussie Port, born just a few miles from where the Red Sox were playing their first professional game in Fenway, on April 20, 1912.


    After graduating in 1930 from Roxbury Memorial High School for Boys, where he was captain of the hockey team, Mr. Gilbert briefly attended New York University and hoped to become a physician but he had to cut short his education when his mother became ill.

    Returning to Boston to care for his mother, he took up his father’s trade of painting and wallpapering houses. Mr. Gilbert soon met Mary Cohen and they married in 1935.

    Although he was not drafted during World War II, Mr. Gilbert wanted to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy in 1943 as a medical corpsman. After being stationed in the Great Lakes area and San Diego he was scheduled to go overseas, but was never deployed.

    Back in Boston after the war, he became a sheetmetal worker. Over the years, he moved his family to Brookline and purchased a summer home in Hull.

    “Most of my memories of him were in that summer house,” said his grandson Jonathan Curelop of New York City, who recalled Mr. Gilbert’s fastidious housekeeping while the family stayed there. “He always kept the place very neat. I remember him frantically following people around with a broom.”

    When he was not working, Mr. Gilbert liked to sing, and he joined local choirs while living in Brookline, his daughter said.

    “He had a great voice. We loved to sing together,” she said, adding that her husband made CDs of her and Mr. Gilbert singing oldies together. Mr. Gilbert kept his radio tuned to a station that played his favorite music from the 1930s through the ’50s. “He loved to sing those older songs,” she said. “He knew all the words.”

    Before retiring in the 1970s, Mr. Gilbert spent 15 years repairing buses for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, but his working days were not over.

    “He worked his whole life,” his son said. “Even when he retired he went back to painting houses.”

    In retirement, Mr. Gilbert and his wife sold their Brookline home and bought a house in Margate, Fla., where they spent winters. They moved back to Brookline to an assisted living community in the early 2000s.

    A devoted newspaper reader, Mr. Gilbert was known for his strong opinions and knowledge of the world around him, even though he spent most of his life in and around Boston. Never far from his family, he raised his children in a Dorchester three-decker with his parents on the first floor and his younger sister, Sarah Pallin, and her family on the third.

    Even as family grew up and moved away, Mr. Gilbert spoke regularly by phone with his children, grandchildren, and especially Pallin, with whom he became closer as they approached the end of their lives. She died at 97, several weeks before his death.

    “He believed family was the most important thing,” his son said. “We all lived close, and he would always go around visiting family.”

    A service has been held for Mr. Gilbert, who in addition to his daughter, son, grandson, and great-grandson leaves five other grandchildren and three other great-grandchildren.

    Although he held different jobs during his long life, Mr. Gilbert’s work as a housepainter seemed to best reflect his character. He kept a meticulous home and treated everyone as fairly and evenly as the paint he spread across walls.

    “Everything was about fairness,” said his grandson Mark Curelop of Weston. “It was the moral code that he had.”

    Mr. Gilbert’s daughter said there was no secret to his high spirits as he reached the age of 101.

    “He was a very smart man, very affectionate, and took good care of himself,” she said. “He lived his life. It’s just luck of the draw.”

    Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at