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Mutual Produce founder dies at 100

by Brian Gaylord | October 20, 2009
BOSTON -- Lewis Gussman, founder of Mutual Produce Corp., here, died Sept. 30 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, following a brief illness. He was 100.

Mr. Gussman launched the wholesale company, formerly named Mutual Produce Inc., at the New England Produce Center in 1955. He sold the company in 2000 and continued to work for Mutual Produce Corp. until he was 98.

"He paid his bills on time, he ran a good business," Richard Travers Jr., co- owner of Mutual Produce Corp., said of Mr. Gussman. He added that some shippers have been doing business with Mutual Produce for 30 years.

Mr. Travers said that Mr. Gussman loved the produce business because "no two days are the same." He said that Mr. Gussman would "jump on the phone" to tell callers that he'd rubbed elbows with their grandparents.

Sadly for Mr. Gussman, he outlived his contemporaries in the produce industry. "He was the oldest guy around here for 15 years," Mr. Travers said. "He was an icon of the produce industry."

Mr. Travers recalled that Mr. Gussman "loved playing with fruit, creating displays that were outstanding."

Paul DiMare, president of Boston-based DiMare Inc., said that Mr. Gussman was a mentor of sorts to him. He described Mr. Gussman as "honorable" and "one of the best produce people."

"He was a double A house in [the] Blue Book," which meant that he paid his bills every week, Mr. DiMare said. "There aren't a whole lot of companies that do that."

Mr. DiMare said that "everybody respected [Mr. Gussman] in Boston" and that he had a "great list of top-notch shippers."

Mr. Gussman's five siblings -- all brothers -- also worked in fresh produce, though not at Mutual Produce. Mr. Gussman's father also worked in fresh produce.

Mr. Gussman is survived by a son, Bob Gussman, and his wife, Trudi, of Winchester, NH, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lewis Gussman was preceded in death by his wife, Ethel Rosenberg, in 2004.

Bob Gussman said that the family is considering holding a memorial gathering in the spring.