By Joyce L. Faiola
GROTON — In 1961 Gerry Michaud started going door-to-door for Fuller Brush in Groton.
He still sells to some of his original customers. And their children.
“Fuller Brush men don’t retire,” he said. “They simply slowly shed their bristles.”
The Fuller Brush man is not as frequent a sight these days as it was in its heyday, when Red Skelton and Lucille Ball each starred in films about the door-to-door business. Started in a Somerville basement by Alfred Fuller, it moved to Hartford, Conn. and became a going concern in 1906. After spending World War II making brushes to clean guns, it expanded after the war to become a door-to-door sales company, selling products for personal care as well as commercial and household cleaning.
Billy Graham sold for Fuller Brush. So did Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman. And for 54 years, Michaud has been making his rounds.
He had to cut back after suffering a heart attack and two strokes in the spring. But he’s now mobile.
“I actually delivered 60 pounds of laundry soap to someone in Groton today,” he said. “I found the pail to be heavy but I managed. If you lined up all the free little brushes I’ve given to all my new customers, they would take you from Groton to Boston.”
It’s made him a well-known face to many longtime families.
“In the early years, I sold supplies to John Kerry’s parents on Indian Hill Road in Groton,” he said. “I’ve been selling to Robert Hargraves for over 50 years and we recently shared a trip to Puerto Rico for 10 days as I am also a travel agent and I conduct some tours. Also, Charlie and Margaret Elwood, who used to own the Groton County Club, have been customers for many years.”
George and Mary Ann Brouillette are long-time customers and friends who live near the Groton Country Club.
“Gerry is a legend,” George Brouillette said. “He is the kind of person who, if you are stuck by the side of the road and it’s pouring rain and you call him for help, he only asks you one question: Where are you?”
This came into play while Michaud was visiting the home of Marion Stoddart, the Nashua River Watershed founder.
“She told me when I was visiting her that she had just received a call and that she had to leave. She asked if I could return to her home in 45 minutes to remove a cake from the oven,” he recalled. “I called on Joan Reynolds for my next stop and I had to excuse myself after 30 minutes had passed. I drove to Marion’s and while I was removing the cake, her spouse arrived at home and commented that he was not aware that Marion had hired a cook.”
He was, of course, only kidding. Michaud was already well-known to the family.
“We first met Gerry in 1952 when we moved to Groton and he called on us in a black suit and rather old-fashioned high-top black shoes,” Stoddart said. “He has been a welcome part of our lives since that first day.”
Even when customers turned him away, it became a memorable experience. When paying a call on the Barrett family, who lived in a large home on Farmers Row in the 1960s, he failed to make a sale but did make a connection.
“One day when I appeared at her door, she told me she was busy with guests who were purchasing antiques and that she could not conduct business with me that day. But she invited me to enter and meet a few guests and one of them was familiar to me,” he said. “This was Gene Autry — my special hero cowboy — whose music I still listen to on Pandora.”
His memories are also of sad times.
“In 1963, I was entering the driveway leading to Mrs. Donald Priest on Old Ayer Road when I suddenly heard over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot,” he said. “I immediately entered her home and we were glued to the TV for many hours and then I had dinner with them.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Michaud sold a number of American flags and poles. He was happy to install the poles himself.
“This type of employment provided a great deal of contact with many families in Pepperell, Groton, Ashby, Townsend and Nashua during the last 54 years,” he said. “Many of my customers are friends. I’ve attended many weddings of their children, many funerals, and I have also shared some travel such as a 25th anniversary cruise. I became a household word and the kids would say, ‘Mom, the Fuller Brush man is at the door!'”
Those connections remain to this day. The children who answered the doors now are clients with children of their own.
“It’s been a lifelong experience and when I was recuperating in the nursing home, customers visited me and some even helped with my mail,” Michaud said. “One of my biggest joys is recalling every wonderful conversation I’ve had with my customers and friends. Many people ask me to make THEM their last stop so I can stay for dinner. What a terrific perk to a great career!”