From WWII vet to cartoonist to bike racer, Joe Cote was known to all


TOWNSEND — Over the years, Joe Cote was a familiar figure around Townsend.

He could be counted on to sell poppies for the VFW on Memorial Day, for instance, and his Fitchburg Road home was a familiar stop for parents with kids whose bikes needed repair.

An artist, a World War II veteran and an accomplished cyclist, Cote was a man of many talents.

Cote was a commercial artist who also turned his hand to cartooning. His work appeared in the Fitchburg Sentinel and the Townsend Common. Local people enjoyed looking for themselves in the cartoons that appeared through the late 80s.

Betty Mae Tenney remembers a cartoon she appeared in. As the president of the Ladies Auxiliary at the Townsend VFW, she organized the Memorial Day parades. “He had me there barking,” she recalled.

Cote marched in the parades and visited schools to share his experiences. Even into his 80s he still fit into his old uniform. Tenney said Cote believed this helped him with his fund-raising and selling poppies.

“He was very proud of his military services,” she said.

Cote received several medals for his service in Europe, including a Purple Heart. His son, Alan, remembers poking the shrapnel wound in his father’s shoulder when the family went to the beach. Cote was injured in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

After the war, he attended the School of Practical Art in Boston on the G.I. Bill. After working in Worcester, he accepted a job in Pepperell and later worked at NEBS.

Cote’s interest in art began as a teenager. He took a cartooning class at Classical High School in Worcester and told his son he was the only kid to stick through it until the end of the course.

Cote created hand-painted signs for organizations in Townsend. Most noticeable were the large signs for the St. John’s Fair placed on the common and a sign on the Cooperage in the Harbor.

Bicycle racing was also an early interest. Alan said Joe was 14 when he competed in his first race.

Like art, Cote’s interest in bicycling continued throughout his life. He was one of the founders of the Fitchburg Longsjo Race, which marks its 50th anniversary this summer.

He raced as a member of the Fitchburg Cycling Club during the 1960s and would attend the races in later years wearing the original team jersey. He participated in hundreds of races including the Quebec-Montreal race, at a distance of 180 miles and the oldest race in North America.

Cote shared his love for sports freely. In the late 70s he opened a bicycle shop in Townsend, out of his home. “So many people got to know him through that,” Alan said. They no longer had to go to Fitchburg for sales or service.

He shared his love of cycling with his family. Joe and his wife, Marion, took a bicycling honeymoon in 1960, something Alan said was quite unusual for the time. The entire family — Joe, Marion and sons Alan and Jean-Joseph — later took bike tours together.

Alan followed in his father’s footsteps, or pedal revolutions, and also raced bikes. The Cotes competed in the Mt. Washington Hillclimb in 1983. Joe came in first as a grand master and Alan placed second as a junior.

After a long and colorful life, Joe Cote passed away on Halloween, Oct. 31, after a recent decline in health.

He was 86 years old.