NEWBURYPORT, MA - Ralph W. Gibbs, 95, a former longtime Newbury resident, and Essex County newspaper executive, passed away Friday morning, March 2, at Avita of Newburyport, with his daughter by his side.
Ralph was a proudly decorated U.S. Army veteran of World War II, and the loving husband of the late Victoria M. (Garfi) Gibbs, the love of his life, who passed Feb. 12, 2017, and with whom he would have celebrated 47 years of marriage on March 24.
He was born on Shepherd Street in Gloucester on the Fourth of July in 1922, the son of William H. and Beatrice W. (Dunn) Gibbs of Gloucester, and was graduated from Gloucester High School in 1940.
He was active in the Gloucester Sea Scouts and in ROTC at the high school, where he was major in command of the first battalion and a Haskell Medal winner. As platoon sergeant of B Company, he commanded his own prize squad during the Presentation party and received second place in the manual of arms.
For three summer sessions, he attended Citizens' Military Training Camps (CMTC) at Fort McKinley where he was rated as a marksman, and achieved the rank of Master Sergeant.
Ralph started work as a clerk for First National Stores in Gloucester, and then as shopkeeper at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where his father, Billy Gibbs, was a sheet metal worker. He volunteered to transfer to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard after the December 7th attack, and returned to Gloucester to join the U.S. Army in July of 1944.
He served overseas with the 10th Armored Division, 61st Armored Infantry Battalion, Company A, based in Metz, France, in General George Patton's Third Army, as gun crewman, heavy artillery, from Dec. 26, 1944, to Sept. 11, 1945. He was honorably discharged as Private First Class on July 8, 1946.
For his meritorious service, Ralph received the Purple Heart for wounds incurred March 1, 1945, in Germany, was the recipient of the Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for exemplary conduct in ground combat that took place May 5, 1945, as the Allied Armies moved through to Germany. His service in the military came to define him and his endeavors throughout his long life.
On returning home, he attended Boston University on the GI Bill, graduating with a degree in business administration in 1950. He then began his career in the newspaper business, working as Circulation Manager for Philip S. Weld in Gloucester with the Cape Ann Summer Sun.
In 1952, with Weld's purchase of the Daily News of Newburyport and Gloucester Times, Ralph became the Circulation Manager of these two papers. He left the Times in 1955 to become Advertising and Business Manager of the Daily News, and returned to the Gloucester office in 1963 as company Comptroller, a position he held until retirement in 1987 after 35 years with Essex County Newspapers, Inc.
A lifelong boater, he and his former wife, Florence Whynott of East Gloucester, lived near the Essex Causeway in the early 50s, and his boat was one of only five skiffs at the Essex River marina at that time.
After moving to Newbury in 1958, he spent nearly every summer weekend boating from the Parker River to Sandy Point, Steep Hill Beach, Annisquam, Gloucester, and the Plum Island Sound sandbars with a large group of boating buddies.
He was a 50-plus year member, past president and treasurer of the Oldtown Country Club on Parker River and became the club historian after organizing and scanning all ledgers, meeting minutes, and documents since the clubs founding in 1904.
Like his parents and his sisters, Ralph loved to dance. He ad-libbed the soft shoe, took tap dance lessons at age 64, and was always first on and last off the dance floor. He loved music, musicals, and old movies, especially Yankee Doodle Dandy, Music Man, and Singing in the Rain. He also enjoyed camping with his family in Maine, mowing the grass, and tending the beautiful roses that he grew along the stone wall at his High Road home of 55 years.
Ralph was quite well-known for his love of American flags, which he flew from two tall poles at his home, and that he wore throughout his life on ball caps, t-shirts, sweaters, and license plates.
His keen hand/eye coordination enabled him to excel at horseshoes, volleyball, tennis, and pool. He played in the men's volleyball league at the Newburyport YMCA, of which he was a former Board of Directors member. He was a competitive men's doubles tennis player at the Oldtown and at the Racquet Club, winning many local tournaments, and of course, trophies that he loved to display.
Upon retirement at age 62, he took up golf which he played with great enthusiasm well into his 80s, even scoring a hole in one at age 82.
During retirement, he and Vicki traveled to many countries in Europe, to Canada and Mexico, and to nearly all states in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, making friends wherever they went. Always adventurous, he chartered canal boats in France and England, parasailed in Acapulco, and rode upon a donkey down the steep, narrow Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
He was adept with computers and cameras, keeping up with the ever-changing technology of both until recent years, and the family has much proof that he invented the selfie long ago.
Ralph and Vicki lived on High Road until December 2012, and enjoyed easy living at Atria Assisted Living for more than three years before moving to Avita in late summer of 2016.
Known for his sense of humor and skills as a jokester, he had the ability to make everyone around him laugh and smile, and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Always devoted to his family and his country, Ralph was a true patriot and proud member of the Greatest Generation.
He was predeceased by his sister, Bernice "Bunny" (Gibbs) Cahill of Gloucester, who passed Oct. 26, 2017.
In addition to his beloved daughter, Jane M. Gibbs, and her partner Bill Heckenkamp, of Newburyport, he leaves his loving sister, Maureen (Gibbs) Noble, and her husband Ralph, of Gloucester.
He is also survived by his adoring nieces and nephews, Christine (Noble) Favazza and husband Joseph, Catherine (Noble) Fulford and husband Mark, Elizabeth (Noble) Jewell and husband Mike, William Cahill, Eileen (Cahill) O'Connor and husband Ed, and Stephen Cahill and wife Jane (Buckley), all of Gloucester. Ralph also leaves his lifelong friend Joe Orange of Gloucester, and several grand-nieces and -nephews, great-grand-nieces and -nephews, and many step-nieces and -nephews.
The Gibbs family wishes to thank Dr. Frank McDermott of Newburyport who saw Ralph and Vicki as his first patients in the year 2000; to Marie Sheehy, gerontological NP of the VA, Haverhill; to Lou Brignac, RN, of Ascend Hospice; and especially to the nurses and the entire staff at Avita of Newburyport for the kindness, love, and immeasurable good care of "Ralphie" and his Vicki during their residency.
Visiting hours are Friday, March 9, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Elliott, Woodworth, and Rogers Funeral Home, 35 Green St., Newburyport. A graveside service with military honors will take place in spring at St. Mary's Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or to the charity of one's choice.
Published on March 6, 2018