The two 10-year-old fifth-graders were attending a summer program at the Albuquerque Little Theater in 1945 to learn “dramatic skills” when a playground game of tag between classes took a turn for the worse, Mary recalled.
“I grabbed a boy’s shirttail and he kept on running, and his shirt tore,” she said.
Young Bobby offered that, if it had been his shirt, he would have resorted to physical violence against little Mary. “Strong language for a fifth-grader and, throughout the rest of our school careers, I just thought he was a real snot,” she said, and she kept her distance from him, even though their parents were friends.
They did eventually get over it and wound up getting married – a union that lasted 60 years until Robert “Bobby” Peter Matteucci died March 12 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.
The two of them getting together, however, was not a foregone conclusion. Bobby attended Albuquerque High and Mary went to Highland. The schools were notorious rivals, which didn’t help smooth things between the teens.
“We’d go to the same hangouts, burger joints, drive-in theaters and bumped into each other from time to time,” Mary said. “And because we were both in student government, we’d sometimes have joint school meetings. There were silent exchanges between us. It was not friendly. He acted like a big shot. He was just not my type.”
At least not until they both attended college.
While at the University of New Mexico, Bobby sat several rows behind Mary in a world history class and apparently kept his eye on her, deciding to ask Mary to the annual Black and White Ball sponsored by an on-campus fraternity. Mary, who already had a date, declined his offer.
“It was probably the first time he’d ever been turned down,” she said laughing.
Still, “he was good looking and very smart,” she said, and she was flattered, so she agreed to go out with him – first to a cowboy movie at the KiMo Theatre and then dancing.
“I never had such a good time,” Mary said. “And he was a great dancer.”
They continued to keep steady company and got married in their junior year.
After college, Bobby Matteucci applied for and was accepted to Harvard Law School.
“We were there for three months when he decided that being a lawyer was not what wanted to do,” Mary said. “We came back to Albuquerque and he went into business with his dad,” who operated the family-owned Paris Shoes, an institution in Albuquerque that was started by Bobby’s grandfather, who began making and repairing shoes in 1904 before branching out into retail. The store remained open until 1994.
During those years, Bobby and Mary raised six children, and Bobby became active in public service. He was the longest-serving member of the Governing Board of Central New Mexico Community College, where he was elected to four terms as the board’s chairman, and was on the board of directors of Presbyterian Hospital for 30 years.
He was also chairman of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, served on the boards of New Mexico Student Loans, New Mexico Board of Educational Finance, the New Mexico Retail Association, New Mexico Economic Development, United Way, the UNM Alumni Association and the Lobo Club.
“He was an incredible mentor and a very good friend,” said CNM President Kathie Winograd, who recalls that Matteucci was on the board at the school when she first arrived and later “on the board that chose me to be president.”
She said he took time to get to know the members of the college’s administration and staff by taking each of them to lunch.
He also had a well-known sweet tooth and loved chocolate cakes. A big supporter of the culinary program at CNM, “when we renovated the building in which the culinary program is located, we named it the Robert P. Matteucci Building,” Winograd said.
Jim Hinton, chief executive officer of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, also called Matteucci a “mentor and role model.” Hinton grew up in Albuquerque and was friends with the Matteucci kids, and remembers taking daughter Francesca to a seventh-grade dance at what was then Jefferson Junior High School – a first date for both of them.
“Bobby gave me my first job, other than mowing lawns,” Hinton said. “I thought working at Paris Shoes, inside, where there was air conditioning, sounded pretty good. I started out as a stock boy and, a year or so later, asked if I could sell shoes. Bobby taught me a lot about customer service and how to treat people.”
Years later, after Hinton completed graduate school, he applied for an administrative position at Presbyterian. “Bobby was on the board back then and I think he put in a good word for me, which allowed me to get my first job at Presbyterian 33 years ago. He helped me get two important jobs in my life. If not for Bobby Matteucci, I’d still be mowing lawns.”