Standing at the corner of Neptune Road and Frankfort Street Monday afternoon, East Boston Savings Bank Chairman and CEO Richard Gavegnano points to where his house once stood at 20 Neptune Rd., a street and neighborhood demolished by Massport during Logan Airport’s massive expansion in the late 1960s.
“It was in a triple-decker right here that I grew up,” he said pointing to a now empty field. “We would spend our entire summers playing on these streets, it was a real close community here. I wouldn’t trade the way I grew up for anything.”
Whether it was playing innocent kid pranks on friends or neighbors, competing in a game of punch ball, or tossing a pimple ball from the porch of his home across the courtyards to a neighborhood friend, it seems the competitiveness of growing up an Eastie kid prepared Gavegnano for his future as head of one of the regions most successful banks.
“We were all street kids,” he said proudly of his blue-collar pedigree. “We would spend hours playing football or stickball in the summer or hockey on the frozen marsh around Wood Island Park.”
Nothing in his upbringing would suggest that this kid hanging on the corner playing stickball in the neighborhood during the 1950s would rise to prominence in the finance world. His story in many ways is pure Horatio Alger.
”I was hungry,” he said. “I had the will and drive to see what else was out there in the world and I wanted a piece of it.”
Born and raised in Eastie, Gavegnano was raised on Neptune Road by a single mother that worked hard to provide for Gavegnano and his brother.
“I often think of that time in my life,” said Gavegnano. “It was a great neighborhood of working class Italian and Irish immigrants…it was a tight knit neighborhood and we all looked out for one another.”
During the summer months, Gavegnano and his friends would play at Wood Island or games of stickball on Neptune Road. It was during this time Gavegnano met a man that would ultimately change his life.
“When my friends and I were outside playing we’d notice a shiny sports car that would drive down Neptune Road and park,” explained Gavegnano. “The driver was a well-dressed man in always wearing a suite, a fedora and carrying a brief case. He stood out in a working class neighborhood like East Boston.”
The man was Corning Peaver, a Marblehead resident that worked for a brokerage company on Federal Street. Peaver would park on Neptune Road and take the train from Wood Island station each morning. Over the years he got to know Gavegnano and the other neighborhood kids.
“Years later, after I graduated high school, I was facing the draft so I answered an ad for a job at a brokerage company downtown,” said Gavegnano.
With no experience the cards were stacked against Gavegnano–that’s until he noticed Peaver walking by the interviewer’s office.
“It didn’t look good and then I saw Peaver so I told the guy conducting the interview, “I know Corning Peaver’,” said Gavegnano.
Not believing a kid from Eastie would know a stockbroker well known in certain financial circles, the interviewer went off to investigate.
“A few minutes later he came back and told me that Corning Peaver did in fact know who I was and said I was a good guy,” said Gavegnano. “I got the job on the spot.”
That day in 1966 began an illustrious career in finance that has lasted to this day.
In 1974 he joined the East Boston Savings Bank team and helped the bank grow by helping it invest in bonds, equities and loans.
In 2008, Gavegnano’s career came full circle as he was asked by NASDAQ to ring the closing bell. As chairman and CEO of Meridian Interstate Bancorp, Inc., the holding company for East Boston Savings Bank, it was an honor for Gavegnano.
Of the bank he represents, Gavegnano said he’s proud of what together the East Boston Savings Bank team has accomplished.
“There are few banks left like East Boston Savings Bank,” said Gavegnano. “After 165 years we still have strong roots and a foundation in the neighborhood we named the bank after. I still have a strong bond with East Boston. I love coming back here and walking around the old neighborhood.”