GARDINER — Jeff McCormick, who owned Gerard’s Pizza on Water Street and was in his quiet way a mainstay in Gardiner’s downtown neighborhood, has died.
McCormick, 43, died Saturday, just about a year after he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Signs posted in Gerard’s windows Monday announced the restaurant will be closed this week due to a death in the family.
“He was a very private person, but he was always cheerful and friendly,” Clare Marron, owner of Monkitree Gallery and business neighbor of McCormick and Gerard’s, said. “You would never know he was having a bad day. He would always give you a smile and make you feel like everything was going great,” Marron said, even when you knew it wasn’t.
The news came as a surprise, she said, because McCormick and his partner, Bobbi Knowlton, who owns Raggamuffin on Water Street, were so positive and hopeful.
“He didn’t share a lot of what he was going through,” Marron said, “and Bobbi is the same way. They were uncomfortable when we raised money for them after the fire. They were thankful, but it was not in any way expected.”
McCormick, never one to grab the spotlight, found himself there in the summer of 2015, following a fire that broke out in the building next to his on Water Street.
The pizza shop shared a wall with 235 Water St. Following the July 16 fire, Gerard’s was closed for about a month. The fire damage was minimal, but the smoke and water damage was substantial.
At the time, McCormick said the closure was the longest that Water Street had been without Gerard’s Pizza since it opened in 1964.
During the time when the restaurant was closed, McCormick continued to pay his employees.
“A lot of people, on a business or personal level, aren’t prepared for an event like this,” he said at the time. “I’m very thankful to take care of my employees. They do take care of me, so it felt like the right thing to do.”
When Gerard’s re-opened, the interior had been repainted orange and black, the colors of the community’s high school.
In April 2016, a GoFundMe page announced that McCormick had been diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer.
“Jeff plays a large part in our community. We’ve all enjoyed meals from Gerard’s Pizza, good times sitting and eating with friends and family,” Knowlton wrote. “It’s our turn to give and say thanks for the service that Jeff has provided to all of us.”
In subsequent updates, Knowlton wrote that McCormick had undergone surgery in 2013 to remove a malignant brain tumor.
When he started having trouble with blood clots in his legs and right arm in December 2015, his doctors eventually diagnosed him with stage 3 adenocarcinoma. He had a tumor in his lung and it had spread to his lymph nodes.
On Monday, shortly after he learned of McCormick’s death, Leon Emery was saddened by the news. Emery’s Meat and Produce, on Bridge Street in Gardiner, supplied McCormick with meats for his menu offerings.
“He was humble and kind and patient,” Emery said. “He was a good business man and did a lot of good for the community. He touched a lot of lives. He’ll be missed greatly.”
McCormick’s community, which so appreciated him, let him know what he meant to them. In July 2016, they organized a fundraiser for McCormick with a barbecue in Johnson Park, an ice cream social, a silent auction and the sale of things salvaged from the burned buildings.
“It was wonderful to see how the community rallied around him when his illness became known,” Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said, noting that he and his family regularly stopped by Gerard’s for the walk-in special. “It was an incredible event. I hope we can provide the same support to Bobbi and his family as well.”
“Jeff gave the world 43 years and leaves it changed for the better through everyone he came in contact with,” McCormick’s obituary reads. “Please remember the sparkle in his eyes.”
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632