Tribute to

Gerry Triano

Tribute to Gerry Triano (1951-2019)

In early January 2019, Gerry Triano passed away after six weeks of ill health. He was having trouble breathing and experiencing chest pain around Thanksgiving; a doctor hospitalized him. Gerry was optimistic that this setback would soon pass, but it didn’t. As doctors did medical testing, they discovered blood in his lungs (a pulmonary embolism). The news got worse: they found cancerous cells in his lungs. Gerry started losing his usual optimism; he told me, “It doesn’t look good.” He was released from the hospital and got set up at home, with frequent visits by a nurse. He didn’t tell me how bad it was, but I figured it out. We usually talked on the phone for half an hour or longer at least twice a week, but the calls dwindled to once a week for five minutes at a time. I was in the throes of the Christmas season, and left to visit family. Gerry left a phone message wishing me “Merry Christmas” shortly after I had left. When I got back I heard nothing from him. Fearing the worst, I called and an unfamiliar voice answered his phone. It was a church friend shutting down his apartment. She told me how Gerry had passed away. After Christmas, he went back to the hospital and never came out. He died on January 3rd, 2019. A brief online obit by church friends had factual errors—I hadn’t found it because they had his name wrong, calling him “Gerald Triano” (his first name was Gerard; it was on the address label of his letters).

Gerry lived three lives, and they didn’t connect much. He was born in Queens, New York, on December 9, 1951. He grew up on Long Island in the Elmont area when his parents relocated him and his brother, who predeceased him (as did his parents). Gerry got a job in the mail room of Doubleday & Company when it was in Garden City, further east on Long Island, in the early 1970s. He had that job while finishing college with a teaching degree for high school math, but he did that just one year in the early 1970s. Instead, he became a full-time employee at Doubleday in the accounting department, then shifted to royalties—an important part of the publishing business, since royalties establish what is owed to writers based on how many copies their books sell, balanced against the publisher’s advances to the writer before publication. Gerry had a good mind for numbers, and remembered everything. His job shifted to Manhattan when the company relocated its offices, and from then on he commuted on the subway. He worked with some of the best writers in Doubleday’s history, including John Grisham. Random House merged with Doubleday Bantam Dell in 1998, after which Gerry worked for Random House (owned by Bertelsmann, the biggest media conglomerate in the world). Gerry was shifted to the Crown division, but he still did Grisham’s royalties for the Doubleday division because Gerry knew more about Grisham’s account than anyone else. Random House offered him a generous early retirement in 2013, and I was relieved Gerry took it, as the commute had become onerous (it averaged 90 minutes each way). He went back for about six months later on to help reconcile the royalties departments when Penguin Books merged with Random House, creating Penguin Random House.

Gerry’s second life was bodybuilding. He was not a bodybuilder, but he met someone in the early 1980s at a bodybuilding show that he married, She wasn’t a competitor, but like him had friends who were bodybuilders and became a fan. She also designed posing suits for women competitors. They had a son. In the early 1990s, his wife picked their son up at a basketball practice and on the way home they were struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Gerry never recovered from this loss. He never discussed the details with me—I didn’t even know the names of his wife and son. It was the elephant in the room during our friendship, which mainly took place on the phone. We first met on a bodybuilding discussion board in 1999, and started calling each other in 2000. Over the years we discussed every aspect of bodybuilding at length, sometimes for hours at a time. He was going to one of the same shows that I was (the NPC Teen, Collegiate and Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh), but on different years. I went in 2000; he went in 2003. We coordinated a trip and met there in 2004, 2005, and 2006. I also visited New York in March 2004 to see the Broadway musical Hairspray with him while Harvey Fierstein was still in the cast. The tickets were $100 each; after we walked out of the lobby, Gerry said, “I would have paid more.” Although Gerry was a good friend, and a dependable one, he wasn’t a personal friend. He would not talk about his private feelings. I knew his public life, his visits with relatives (including a 100-year-old uncle who survived him), and most of all, his love for TV programs like The Golden Girls, Perry Mason, and Murder, She Wrote. His connection to “The Girls” (as he called them) was deep; his mother introduced him to the show, and Sophia reminded him of his grandmother, who spoke Italian to him while Gerry grew up. We spent many happy hours on the phone discussing TV shows, comparing notes on which episodes we had just seen—although I was sometimes chagrined that he cared more about the TV shows I watched on DVD than my ”real life.” Gerry didn’t like “real life”; he preferred his TV shows and his mystery novels, especially those by Agatha Christie. Those things were his escape from life.

Gerry’s third life, the one that dominated after he retired, was his church. He was prominent in it, doing its financial accounting and helping to conduct the services. A man of deep faith, Gerry wasn’t stuffy or sanctimonious. I didn’t know his church friends, but Gerry socialized with them every week, dining out on Saturday nights. They were unknowledgeable of his life in publishing, and unaware of his life in bodybuilding. I have no doubt that his passing was a loss to his church, which he was in several times a week.

The last time I saw Gerry was at the NPC Teen, Collegiate and Masters Nationals in July 2006. After that, our communication was via the telephone and Internet, although we exchanged birthday and holiday greetings by mail. He knew more people in the bodybuilding world than I did, and he was liked by many of them. He befriended competitors, communicating with their parents, partners and children. He offered moral support and advice to competitors, some of whom nearly quit after losing their shows—but with his encouragement, came back and did better (and a few of them turned pro). He attended Bev Francis’s shows while they were at TriBeCa, but didn’t go to New Jersey when they relocated. The one show he didn’t miss was the NPC Teen, Collegiate and Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh, PA. He had judged a few Long Island shows, and developed an eye for posing and stage presentation. Competitors at the Masters Nationals sometimes had him vet their routines the day before the show to get last-minute pointers. He brought a number of competitors to Bodybuilding Reviews for links, photographic opportunities, and news updates. Gerry’s passing was a loss to publishing, bodybuilding, and his church. His passing was a personal loss for me, but we’ll always have “The Girls.”

Mike Emery

30 September 2019