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Theodore A. Oatis, at 67; real estate developer whose optimism was inspirational


The day usually started the same way for Ted Oatis: sitting down for a conversation with his business partner, Donald Chiofaro, at the round table outside Au Bon Pain at International Place, the twin tower development that was their lustrous signature on Boston’s skyline.

“Every morning we met for a cup of coffee,” Chiofaro said, “and we started by saying, ‘OK, what do we want to accomplish?’ ”

Sometimes they found inspiration in a newspaper story. Other times, a lingering dilemma that the Chiofaro Co. faced required their attention. Analytical and precise, Mr. Oatis “could look at a problem and come up with four alternatives,” Chiofaro recalled. Narrowing the options to one, “he’d say, ‘Do you think we can actually do that?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes,’ and he’d say, ‘OK, let’s give it a shot.’ ”


Over the course of their partnership, which began in 1980, the two real estate developers breathed life into projects including Nashoba Corporate Center in Westford and New England Biolabs, Westborough Technology Park, and the Boston Harbor Garage. “He was absolutely the guy you would love to have beside you every minute of the day, no matter how complicated life was,” Chiofaro said, “and it got very complicated at times.”

Mr. Oatis, who continued to approach life with inspirational optimism and energy despite his diagnosis of colon cancer two years ago, died Thursday in his Charlestown home. He was 67 and had taken a boat ride through Boston Harbor just a few days earlier.

“He really lived life to the fullest,” said his wife, Helyn Wynyard Oatis. “And then when he became sick, I never, ever heard him complain. He was unfailingly positive to the very end and felt that he was going to beat it.”

Taylor Oatis of San Francisco said his father’s “spirit was remarkable. The resilience and resolve that he had the past couple of years, I don’t know where he got it from. He wrung every last drop out of life.”


By the time he was diagnosed, Mr. Oatis had experience with adversity. His first wife, the former Elizabeth Birk, died of complications from melanoma at 40, just after Christmas in 1990. Though he found himself a single father with three young children and significant job responsibilities, “he never complained,” Chiofaro recalled. “He knew he had his work cut out for him, but I never heard him say, ‘Poor me.’ He never quit.”

“He made a decision when my mom died that we really needed to spend a lot of time together,” said Mr. Oatis’s daughter Martha of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr. Oatis took his children away on skiing weekends and demonstrated how to balance the demands of work with devotion to family, but “he was not a helicopter parent,” Martha said. “He was extremely supportive and was really committed to honoring us as individuals, and however we wanted to live our lives. Emily and Taylor and I were all very connected to him and to each other.”

Theodore Allen Oatis was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Richard Oatis and the former Ruth Taylor. His father and uncles ran Oatis Machinery Co.

“His parents were gentlemen farmers,” Martha said, and Mr. Oatis carried on that tradition, keeping a large garden, sheep, and a pig while living in Holliston early in his first marriage. Even after he moved to Charlestown, Mr. Oatis kept a plot at the community garden.


“He really had a green thumb,” she said. “He was very minimally invasive in the garden. It was very simple, and somehow everything really thrived.”

Mr. Oatis went to Brown University, originally in a program to pursue medicine, “but he learned it would require double labs and he wouldn’t be able to play on the golf team,” Taylor said. “He did mechanical engineering instead. Golf was important enough to change his career. I think it was a good decision over all.”

After Brown, Mr. Oatis worked for a year with New England Telephone Co., supervising some 20 workers on Cape Cod, before attending Harvard Business School, from which he graduated in 1974.

He began working at the Cabot, Cabot & Forbes real estate company, where Chiofaro was a colleague. “We were unbelievably different people,” Mr. Oatis told the Globe in 1990, “but we got along famously.”

So well that they decided to leave and launch their own company in 1980. “We were doing the deals,” Mr. Oatis told the Globe. “We were doing all the elements. We were our own little development company.” Chiofaro said Mr. Oatis “was more than a business partner. He was more than a friend. He was like my brother. There wasn’t an important part of his life or mine that we didn’t talk about. ”

Mr. Oatis once likened their partnership to Felix and Oscar in “The Odd Couple.”


“I was Oscar,” Chiofaro said, while “Teddy was detailed and orderly and complete and concise,” and as years passed “we got to know each other so well that we could communicate without words. We could communicate feelings and intentions and emotions very simply with gestures or shoulder shrugs.”

Mr. Oatis “had a very noble nature,” Martha said. “He was a classy guy, but he wasn’t rigidly that way. He was a gardener and he called skiing and golfing his church, and he really, really loved his family. And he was hilarious and a goofball and had a great sense of humor.”

Lest anyone think that one of Boston’s most powerful real estate developers was all suit and no play, Mr. Oatis dressed up at Halloween as Austin Powers “for six or seven years in a row,” his daughter said, complete with a recorder that squealed some of the movie character’s famously risqué lines.

“Ted was a wonderfully kind, engaging, social man who really developed long-lasting friendships wherever he was in life,” said his wife, who became a couple with Mr. Oatis six years ago. They would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary this past weekend. “That was one of the things about Ted. Once he touched your life, you wanted to stay connected with him.”

In addition to his wife, daughter, and son, Mr. Oatis leaves another daughter, Emily, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a sister, Dr. Pamela Jane Oatis, of Toledo; and two stepchildren, Julia Wynyard of Boston and Ian Wynyard of Philadelphia.


A funeral Mass will be said at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 in St. Cecilia Church in Back Bay.

During the two years after he was diagnosed, he barely broke stride. Many acquaintances didn’t even realize he was ill. He golfed until past his birthday near the end of July and “was signing up making long-term commitments up until a couple of weeks ago,” Chiofaro said.

Though the prognosis was serious from the start, Mr. Oatis lived the remainder of his life “with dignity, with courage, and with strength,” Chiofaro said. “There is nobody I know who loved living as much as Teddy.”

Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.