Guy Frank Gamberdella, a retired paper products salesman and co-owner of a bridal boutique in Towson who enjoyed chatting with nervous brides-to-be, died Tuesday of pneumonia at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. He was 81.
Born near the Belair Market, he was 5 when his father, a bartender and bar owner, died, leaving his mother, Sophia, to raise four girls and two boys.
Mr. Gamberdella learned early how to earn a buck. One of his first jobs was selling fruit at a stand in the Belair Market. A few years later, he developed a successful business supplying nuts and gumballs for vending machines on The Block. During World War II, while serving with the Marines on Guam, he bought a washing machine, and made money cleaning soiled uniforms.
"Dad was always in business," said Mary Veronica Gamberdella, his daughter and proprietor of Gamberdella Inc. dress shop in Towson. "He was always looking for an angle."
Mr. Gamberdella, his wife, Rita A. Cuneo, whom he married in 1947, and his daughter started the dress shop in 1978. Together they created a haute couture wedding gown business that catered to local brides and bridesmaids. Mrs. Gamberdella died in 1998.
"I didn't do anything that my dad didn't approve of first," said his daughter. "He was never inactive. He did all my books and paid my bills. He was an integral force right from the beginning."
Mary Gamberdella recalled that one of her father's favorite activities at the wedding boutique was to sit and watch brides pose in the elegant gowns his wife designed for them. "He would call them `sweetie' and `honey,'" his daughter said. "He would schmooze them a bit, but they liked it and he liked it. It was just his way."
Besides the wedding gown business, Mr. Gamberdella also helped run a paper products company, Thomas Buccheri & Sons, with a brother-in-law. He worked for the company for more than 40 years, and turned many customers into lifelong friends.
One of those friends, Duke Bergerson, who owned Duke and Lou's Deli on Park Heights Avenue and Duke's Deli on Washington Avenue, had to shut down his businesses in 1968 when riots erupted after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
When he reopened, Mr. Bergerson said, he didn't have enough money to pay for the paper plates, napkins and bags he needed to serve his customers. Mr. Gamberdella delivered the paper goods without payment.
"I told him we'd lost a lot of business, and he said, `Well, you've got to have the goods, you can pay me later,'" said Mr. Bergerson. He called Mr. Gamberdella his "adopted brother."
Another former customer, David A. Greenberg, who met Mr. Gamberdella when he was a child working in his father's bakery on Reisterstown Road, said Mr. Gamberdella lavished his clients, and his family, with heart-felt attention.
"He was a wonderful man," he said. "Whenever a customer ran into hard times, he would help them out, even if it meant that he couldn't earn a buck."
Mr. Gamberdella also served as a surrogate father to his sister Angela Tamberino's sons after their father died.
"He looked out for his family," Mr. Greenberg said.
Mr. Gamberdella attended a parochial elementary school and completed some business courses.
Services were held Friday.
In addition to his daughter, with whom he lived in Towson, he is survived by many nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews.
Memorial contributions may be made to Notre Dame Preparatory School, 815 Hampton Lane, Towson 21286.