Lowell’s patriarch of pugilism has passed on

Boxing and community legend Arthur Ramalho dies at 84

Lowell boxing legend Arthur Ramalho, owner of the West End Gym, watches a few boxers as he stands at the side of one of the two rings at the gym in 2017. Ramalho passed away Saturday at the age of 84. SUN/JOHN LOVE

LOWELL Arthur Ramalho will always be remembered as Lowell’s patriarch of pugilism.

Ramalho was involved in the Greater Lowell/Central New England Golden Gloves since 1968, serving as the long-time Director of Contestants for the region’s historic amateur boxing tournament. He also owned, operated and trained boxers at the West End Gym in Lowell, where Ramalho was the primary dean of discipline at the Mill City’s most celebrated school of hard knocks.

When it came to the city’s foremost authority of higher learning on this sweetest of sciences, Ramalho managed to teach the skills needed to survive in and out of the ring to every character who walked in off the streets and through the West End Gym doors, while firmly adhering to his own character and beliefs as a family man and coach.

The fighters Ramalho trained learned much more than how to put jabs and combinations together. They were taught life lessons as Ramalho supplied them with the smarts and courage needed to withstand the rigors of today’s world.

A man of principles who never pulled any punches, when Ramalho talked boxers listened. And now his sage voice of reason has gone silent.

Ramalho passed away early Saturday morning after a putting up a courageous fight in his battle with lung cancer. He was 84-years-old.

Arthur Ramalho, at right, stands with Bob Russo, left, and Toka Khan Clary of Fall River in 2011 after Clary won the 132 lb Lightweight division at the Golden Gloves.

“He truly is a boxing icon in Lowell,” said Laurie Purcell, who is the New England Golden Gloves Chief of Officials. “If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be boxing in Lowell. I worked with him so closely because I registered all his kids. He comes from the old-school. We battled a lot because I couldn’t convince him it’s not the 1950s anymore. He thought nothing changed. But he was a great guy. I respect him so much.

“The way he battled his cancer shows how much fight he had in him. Arthur was just one of a kind. Boxing will go on in Lowell, but it will never be the same. Just not seeing him sitting there ringside (at the Golden Gloves) will be weird. You just can’t replace him. At least he’s at peace now. I’m going to miss him so much.”

Over the years Ramalho and his West End Gym became as synonymous with amateur boxing in Lowell as the Golden Gloves Tournament. Ramalho opened the West End Gym on Western Avenue in 1973, and the gym has called several locations in Lowell home over the past 46 years.

The West End Gym was featured in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” a movie based on the lives of Lowell boxing legends Micky Ward and his brother, Dicky Eklund, each of whom trained at the West End Gym as amateurs.

Arthur Ramalho watches his boxers at the West End Gym in 2008. (Sun file photo)

“Arthur Ramalho is certainly a Lowell legend and a Golden Gloves legend,” said Executive Director of the New England Golden Gloves, Bob Russo, who also serves as the National President of the Golden Gloves of America. “He is in the National Golden Gloves Hall of Fame. He is the glue that kept our Golden Gloves program together. He was a Golden Gloves guy. That was his whole motivation, to keep the Golden Gloves going and produce boxers for the Golden Gloves.

“But he was much more than that. In our sport, amateur boxing, when you lose a guy like Arthur, you lose a real producer. I really don’t think that anyone can replace him because of what he did. Arthur raised money, he did shows, and for amateur boxing as a whole he had a huge impact. The biggest thing that drives our sport is events. Without events you have nothing, and those little shows Arthur ran meant a lot. That’s where your boxers cut their teeth and get experience. I believe Arthur Ramalho ran more (amateur) shows than anyone in New England history. He kept the sport alive.”

Director of Contestants Arthur Ramalho stands at left with 2011 New England Golden Gloves champions and tournament director Bob Russo, at right. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

Boxing was Ramalho’s passion, but the love of his life was his wife, Rita, and their children, Patricia, Artie, David, Joey, Sue and Cathy.

Arthur and Rita met when they were teenagers. And Arthur wouldn’t take no for an answer until Rita went on a date with him.

“I was about 15-years-old when I met him,” said Rita, who has played an active role in the Golden Gloves Tournament over the years. “He asked me if I wanted to go on a date and I said, ‘No.’ But then before you know it we were going out. We would have been married 65 years in November. He was a good guy. He was very good to his kids. He was very good to his grandchildren. He was very good to his great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. The kids at the gym were his extended family.

“Boxing was his passion. He just loved to go down the gym and be with the kids. He loved to bring our boys down there. He wasn’t a bragger. He was really in boxing for the kids. Seeing kids from the gym do well, whether it was in or out of boxing, is what made him happy.”

All of Ramalho’s sons inherited their father’s love of boxing. David Ramalho had an excellent professional boxing career, during which he compiled a 29-1-1 record with 19 knockouts.

“My father taught me everything,” said David. “I can’t believe he’s gone. It was really a hard thing for all of us in the family. He lived his life with the same energy he trained fighters at the gym. He was just a special dad, a real special guy. Everybody loved him down the gym. He helped a lot of guys and girls. He helped so many people out.”

One of those fighters Ramalho helped start on his way to what is now an extremely promising professional career is Brandon Higgins, 25, a Chelmsford native who is a former Greater Lowell/Central N.E. Golden Gloves champion. Higgins, who no longer trains at the West End Gym, is off to a 2-0 start as a pro.

“He meant everything as far as getting my boxing career going,” said Higgins, who was 13 when he started training at the West End Gym. “He always saw potential in me. Not just me but everyone at the gym. When I was a kid he always called me Mr. Higgins. When I walked in the gym he made me feel like a little man. He was always a huge part of keeping me in the gym. Keeping me out of trouble. Him and his whole family really.

“I’m so sad to hear that he’s gone. He was definitely more of a father-figure. He’d lay down the law if you were misbehaving. He went out of his way to help me. He genuinely cared about everyone who trained at the West End Gym. His passion for the sport was incredible. It didn’t matter if you were a pro or just starting out, he treated you like you were special. He brought out the best in everyone who trained at the West End Gym.”

Arthur Ramalho at his West End Gym in 2017 SUN/JOHN LOVE

No matter the circumstance, Ramalho continually brought out the best in everyone involved in his beloved fight game. For a man whose life was broken up into three rounds of fury, his life’s work in and outside the ring will forever withstand the test of time.

“It’s just amazing how long he’s been involved in the sport and the number of shows he’s run,” said Russo. “His impact for all those years in the sport and the people he touched along the way really can’t be measured. He’s truly one of a kind.

“The bottom line here is people like Arthur Ramalho they’re not just hard to replace, they’re impossible to replace. We’re going to miss him for sure.”

Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi