Julio T. "Speedy" Gonzalez, who had been honorary consul to El Salvador and a successful Baltimore shipping executive whose motto was "My sales territory is the entire world," died Thursday from complications of diabetes at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 88.
"Everyone knew Speedy because he was active in the port and attended all port events," said Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman and chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission. "It was a small company but very active."
Julius Torres Gonzalez — who went by Julio Torres Gonzalez — was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was an undersized 5-year-old when his mother died and his father abandoned him after placing him in a Puerto Rican orphanage.
In 1939, he went to live with an aunt in New York City, where he graduated from Rhodes High School.
During World War II, he served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater, and participated in the Iwo Jima, Tinian, Saipan, Guadalcanal and Tulagi campaigns. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.
He enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park on the G.I. Bill. There he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951 in business and international trade and world finance.
Mr. Gonzalez was gifted with an outsized personality, and sales became a natural outlet.
"I would not have wanted to be a lawyer or a heart surgeon. I love selling," he told Bob Allen, a Towson Times reporter, for a 2002 article, which described Mr. Gonzalez as a "self-made, self-proclaimed millionaire."
After graduating from college, Mr. Gonzalez went to work as a sales engineer for the Ellicott Machine Corp., a Baltimore manufacturer of dredging equipment.
"He was in Venezuela and sold $7 million in dredges in like three months, which was a lot of money then," said his wife of 13 years, the former Terry Lau. "And when the company refused to give him a raise, he quit on the spot and founded Gonzalez International in 1964. Sometimes things happen for the better."
"Life has put up a lot of stumbling blocks," Mr. Gonzalez said in the 2002 interview. "But hey, don't cry for me Argentina. The Lord's been good to me. Ol' Gonzalez has brought a lot of dollars into this country. Ol' Speedy has made some big bucks over the years."
Mr. Gonzalez primarily traded with less-developed and Third World countries, selling everything from used industrial equipment and packaging machinery to eggs from El Salvador.
For more than 30 years, he specialized in buying and selling used cigarette-manufacturing equipment to buyers in Asia, South America and Europe.
"Over the years I have sold millions of dollars' worth of those machines, and most of the time I don't even know how the S.O.B.s work," he told Mr. Allen in the Towson Times article.
"Even though he sold cigarette-making machinery, Speedy never smoked," Mr. Allen said in an interview. "He bought up old plants, found an overseas buyer, and this grew into a very lucrative business. He was most congenial and a real charmer. There was no question about that."
Even though shipments might originate elsewhere, all were moved through the port of Baltimore.
"He was very loyal to the port of Baltimore," said Mrs. Gonzalez, who added that her husband did business on a handshake.
"People trusted him. That's the way he was," she said.
Because his work gave him globe-trotting status, Mr. Gonzalez enjoyed telling people, "My sales territory is the entire world."
Mr. Gonzalez was a longtime resident of the Penthouse in Towson, where he lived in a two-story penthouse. He also maintained his company's office at the Penthouse.
"His office was on the 12th floor and he always came home for lunch," said Mrs. Gonzalez, laughing.
He retired and closed his company in 2003.
"Speedy had such an infectious personality and a natural affability and could talk to anyone. It was thoroughly impossible not to like him. He was such a generous and warm-hearted person," said Mr. Allen, who lives in Eldersburg and is semi-retired.
"He was always stopping to talk to people on his walks around Towson, which earned him the title of the 'Unofficial Mayor of Towson,'" said Mr. Allen.
In addition to his professional life, Mr. Gonzalez served as Baltimore's honorary consul to El Salvador.
"He represented El Salvador very well and was proud to do so," said Mrs. Bentley.
Mr. Gonzalez was a member of the Towson Rotary Club and had been a member of the Hopkins Club.
Mr. Gonzalez enjoyed dancing and had taken more than 68 cruises.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Gonzalez is survived by a son, David Gonzalez of Jacksonville, Fla.; four daughters, Maria Gonzales of Ellicott City, Susanna Gonzales of Glen Burnie, Juliana Gonzalez of Baltimore and Carmen Gonzalez of Washington; and two grandchildren. Another son, Julio T. Gonzalez II, died in 2010. Two earlier marriages ended in divorce.
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