At this point the
theory turns in the direction of father. The late Alvan T. Fuller was that most
dreaded of acts for a son to follow: a self-made man. Alvan T. began working at
the age of 16 in a rubber factory; in the evening he repaired and sold
bicycles. To advertise himself, he raced his product. His style was to start
out slowly and win by coming from behind. And he was a winner on the track, as
he was to be a winner almost everywhere else.
By the time he was
18 Alvan T. was running the bicycle business full-time. At 21 he imported the
first automobiles to enter the U.S. through the port of Boston: two De Dion
Voiturettes. In 1903, when he was 25, he became the first authorized Packard
dealer in America and, shortly after, the first Cadillac distributor. He is
credited with inventing the trade-in and the time payment—two customs without
which American motorists could hardly have survived. In 1910 he was described
as the world's biggest automobile dealer; and then, just as he had moved on
from bicycles to cars, he went on to other things.
worker, ex-bicycle racer came along at a time when the Boston Brahmins were
ripe to be gatecrashed, and he entered that circle. He married Viola Th�r�se
Davenport, an opera singer who had made her debut at the Boston Opera House in
1909 in the title role of Lakm�, getting generally favorable reviews ("a
soprano of range and brilliance"). He began to collect paintings—the
originals of the Rembrandt, the Renoir, the Monet, the Reynolds that now hang
in his son's showroom.
Around 1912, with
the bicycle sprinter's speed that he had brought to other activities, Alvan T.
turned to politics. He supported Teddy Roosevelt, running as a Bull Moose
Progressive. In 1915 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of
Representatives—the only Progressive in that body. A year later he became a
Congressman, breaking the rules of the club almost immediately by criticizing
congressional committees as costly and inefficient—a "barnacle upon the
ship of state." In 1920 Alvan T. became lieutenant governor of
Massachusetts, then governor in 1924. History can be as unjust as the people
who make it. The one thing most people remember about Governor Fuller is that
acting upon the recommendation of a committee headed by Harvard President A.
Lawrence Lowell, he found no reason to stay the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
remembers his father as a born leader—a fiercely independent man of compassion
and principle. In fact, everything Peter Fuller wanted to be. And why not?
Alvan T. succeeded at all he tried, and still had time to take his son to
Yankee Stadium to see the second Louis-Schmeling fight.
At Milton Academy
the wrestling coach, Louie Andrews, used to put his arm around Fuller and say,
"Peter, you can do it." And Peter did it. When he was a marine during
World War II, boxing for a base championship against a Navy contender, a marine
major with a swagger stick told him, "We expect you to win. Fuller."
And Peter won. But in the end, the father figure for Peter was father. He
regards it as no coincidence that he never lost as a wrestler, and only once as
a boxer, in the presence of Alvan T.
After he quit
boxing. Fuller managed fighters, among them Bob Woodall, an Air Force champion,
and Tom McNeeley, who, as a 10-to-1 underdog, was knocked out by Floyd
Patterson in Toronto in 1961.
In 1954 Fuller
attended a Belmont paddock sale and bought a mare named Michikee. Six days
later she won a race, and he was hooked. In three years he acquired a racing
stable of 18 horses. Finally there came what should have been a climax to a
14-year search for a champion. When Dancer's Image won and then lost the 94th
Kentucky Derby because Butazolidin, an anti-inflammatory agent, was found in
the colt's urine, Fuller responded like a fighter. He went to court and spent
three years and $150,000 on appeals. Yet even in the Derby winner's circle
there had been a curious reserve to the expression on Fuller's face—a "this
is not quite it, either" look. Even at best, it seemed, managing
prizefighters and owning horses was only winning secondhand.
The years passed
and Fuller dabbled more or less profitably in Florida real estate ventures
while the Cadillac agency continued to hum along, selling around 1,800 new
Cadillacs a year. There was always something to do. There always had to be
something to do. Fuller bred prize Guernseys. He served as treasurer of the
Fuller Foundation. He had eight children—seven daughters and a son Peter Jr. In
1974 he intended to run as an independent candidate for father's old job,
governor of Massachusetts, then mysteriously changed his mind for
"intensely personal reasons." "Thus far I feel that I have been
very fortunate." he wrote in his 25th-anniversary class report for Harvard,
"but I also feel strongly that although I've had what I consider an
exciting and interesting life to date, perhaps the best or worst is still to
Fuller weighs the
same he weighed 25 years ago—191 pounds—though he believes he has shrunk an
inch, to 5'9". Until five years ago, when he injured his right shoulder, he
wrestled a couple of times a week in the wrestling room he gave to Milton
Academy. He drinks goat's milk. He is a teetotaler and has never smoked. He is
always in shape, always ready—for what?