This article first appeared in the East Haven Courier and won Second Place for Excellence In Journalism in the 2009 Awards Competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Connecticut Chapter.
Today, Al Martone, owner of Executive Furniture & Office Supplies in East Haven, may be sitting in the catbird seat with a successful business and a loving family behind him, but his early life was fraught with both business challenges and personal tragedies. Photo by Jason J. Marchi/The Courier.
Al Martone: A Glass Half Full
By Jason J. Marchi, Courier Correspondent
If anyone has had a cross to bear, it’s Al Martone, an East Haven businessman and beloved family man. And while we all face loss in our lives, Al’s bout with the ill-sided hand of fate is far more than any one person should have to face. While the skies may be sunny for Al today, clouds of hurt and despair once hung overhead like a nightmare that would not end. The nightmare is the loss of Al’s entire first family—a wife and two children—to a single disease known for claiming its victims while in the prime of life.
“My first wife, Patricia, carried the gene for Marfan syndrome,” Al explains, and several years after the birth of their two children, Laura and David, Patricia died in 1979 when she was 37 years old from complications of the disease which affects the body’s connective tissues.
“Laura was 15 at the time and David as 12,” Al says. “Right after that I had the children in the clinic, not realizing they had the disease as well.”
As a widower with two children in tow, Al remarried quickly in 1981 to a woman who was coming off a divorce and had three children of her own, ages 14, 8 and 3. And while this group somehow formed a family, any attempt and an idyllic Brady Bunch life-style was not in the cards.
“Laura died two years later from a Marfan-caused incident,” Al says, and seven years after that, David, at age 19, had surgery to replace his ascending aorta, again, because of Marfans. While the surgery bought David many productive years during which time he reached for his own career goals as a mechanical engineer, his life, too, was cut short at age 33 in 2001.
On the career side of life, Al faced challenges and disappointments as well. “I had my own [Zip] variety store in Wallingford for 13 years,” Al recalls, only to be driven out of business by the arrival of the super supply stores.
After that, Al switched gears and went into the office supplies and furniture business in 1990, working for three different companies over eight years. “After the eighth year I realized I wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to go on my own as in independent rep, and then I opened my own business with my step-son, George Smith.”
“I always felt in my life I was giving out 110 percent but I wasn’t getting it back,” Al muses. “I may be six foot nine, but getting a little pat on the back means a lot to me, and I wasn’t getting it working for others, so I had to do something on my own.”
One distinguishing factor of owning and operating your own business, Al notes, is the need to “pour your whole heart into it to make it work. You need the desire and the drive to succeed. And in today’s market, you have to be able to roll with the punches and pick up the pieces and keep on going,” when facing tough business challenges.
Rolling with the punches is exactly what Al Martone is all about, since he had no choice but to exercise that spirit in order to face the loss of his first family and to restart his own life.
Today, Al enjoys his work, has the support of his wife of 28 years, Carol Martone, and the love of their six grandchildren who range in age from 19 months to 19 years.
“That’s the highlight of our life right now,” Al says, “to enjoy our grandkids.”
And there’s another activity that Al says keeps him young. “I started a golf league that plays every Wednesday. We have over 20 members.”