By Jaime Lutz
Published: July 21, 2011
Arthur Collette, an artist and longtime advertising designer for The Boston Globe, died from lung cancer on July 6 at his brother’s home in Castaic, Calif. He was 58.
Born and raised in Brockton, Mr. Collette was the third of seven children of Laurabelle and Norbert Collette. In an occasionally rowdy family, he stood out as a leader and peacekeeper – and as someone a bit more mischievous than his soft-spoken manner suggested.
He was a boy who with his brother once kept a baby alligator in the basement for a week before their mother found out and made them give it away, said his sister Michele Mariante of Braintree.
By and large Mr. Collette was likable and kind, almost universally described as “gentle.’’ He was popular at Brockton High School, from which he graduated in 1972. Mariante described him as a “leader of the pack of the neighborhood boys.’’
A painter at heart, Mr. Collette studied at the former Vesper George School of Art in Boston, learning under teachers such as Robert Cormier, Robert Douglas Hunter, and R.H. Ives Gammell. He graduated in 1981, and soon began working at the Globe, where he was an advertising designer for 25 years.
Colleagues described him as committed to the paper, willing to work as late as needed to get advertisements out on time. His specialty was drawing car advertisements – but to the paper, Mr. Collette was more than just an artist.
Richard Masotta, The Globe’s advertising operations chief, described Mr. Collette as a leader in the ad design department’s transition to computers.
Mr. Collette’s co-workers knew him as devoted to swimming, art, and the Globe. They were devoted, too. Every year, the department held a Christmastime cookie party, which Mr. Collette loved. And when his mother’s funeral was the same day as the cookie party, co-workers brought cookies to the funeral.
Through his quarter century at the Globe, Mr. Collette loved to paint still life and landscapes, especially landscapes set in the stark New England winter.
During one winter, he met his wife, Judy Ryan, when they were both living at Fenway Studios, an artists’ cooperative near Kenmore Square. He asked her out over her answering machine.
Ryan said she was attracted by his calm, gentleness, and genuineness.
Friends saw him as honest and decent. “It sounds old-fashioned, but Arthur was one of the most honorable people I’ve known,’’ said Loretta Cuda, a longtime friend.
And then there was what was called “the Collette humor,’’ Ryan said. “It took me a while. I never knew if he was kidding or serious.’’ What she eventually discovered was that much of the time, he was kidding.
One year, to make up for forgetting his niece’s birthday, he gave her a check for a million dollars.
On the back of the check, he wrote: “Hello bank teller, this is a stickup. Give all your money to the skinny redhead in front of you.’’
Six months into his relationship with Ryan, Mr. Collette discovered he had cancer. The two remained devoted. “There was never any question. We always took care of each other,’’ she said.
Both painters, the couple worked side-by-side many days. After Mr. Collette came home from drawing car ads, his wife tried to support his creative side.
“We always used to bring each other white roses to paint,’’ Ryan said. One still life of white roses that Mr. Collette painted in the early days of their relationship remains a favorite.
On weekends, they would sometimes head to the North Shore and stand all day, creating landscapes. It was a day peppered with conversation. Painting was one of their bonds, a silent third member of their family.
After a long partnership, they married this year.
In Mr. Collette’s final months, he and Ryan stayed with his brother, Adrian. Mr. Collette was close to his family until the end, still joking in his subtle way.
“He always looked for ways to make us smile when he was suffering,’’ Mariante said.
In addition to his wife, sister, and brother, Mr. Collette leaves three other sisters: Stephanie Clinch of Chicago, Caron Campbell of Westwood, and Teri MacKinnon of Portsmouth, R.I.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of Lourdes in Brockton. A reception is planned Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at his longtime studio at Fenway Studios, 30 Ipswich St., No. 311, in Boston. A selection of his art will be shown.