Matthew "Mat" Azola, master carpenter, dies

Matthew "Mat" Azola, who had overseen historic restorations and construction projects for Azola Cos., died Tuesday night in his Ramona, Calif., home from complications of a black widow spider bite.

He was 34.

Mr. Azola, the son of Martin "Marty" and Lone Azola, was born in Baltimore and raised in historic Rockland, the 19th-century Falls Road mill community that had been restored by his father and grandfather in the 1970s.

After graduating from Towson High School in 1995, he attended Towson University for a year before entering the family business.

"At Towson High, Mat was prom king — no contest, he was the coolest, craziest kid with the greatest smile ever," said Sarah Lord, a longtime family friend.

"But what made Mat special was his huge heart. At an age when kids are clique-y, he took our international students from Prague and Zurich under his wing, and made their year in Baltimore special from day one," said Mrs. Lord.

"He enjoyed the field work and really didn't like being behind a desk. He liked being out there with the guys. He was such a personable guy. Everyone loved this kid," said his father, who lives in North Roland Park.

"He had a dynamic personality and a lot of charisma," said Mr. Azola. "Mat was also a master carpenter and worked on dozens of projects around town."

Some of the projects that he had worked on were the headquarters for the Brownstone Project, Hopewell Cancer Support facility and the restoration of the former Towson Jail.

Seven years ago, Mr. Azola moved to Ramona, where he continued working construction. Most recently, because of the recession that put two companies he worked for out of business, he was selling insurance.

"He was adventuresome and wanted to go out West," his father said. "And one day while working out at the gym, he met Danelle Shive, who ran the smoothie concession, and they fell in love and got married five years ago."

"He still worked for Azola Cos., and we worked on and off together. He came back to work on the jail project," said his brother, Tony Azola of Rockland.

"Mat was excellent with his hands. With historic restoration he was able to make whatever was needed. He was top-notch," said his brother. "He also know electrical and plumbing. So he had a very strong knowledge base."

His brother also praised Mr. Azola's abilities at being able to work with people from different trades.

"He could relate to them and they loved him. He was a charismatic leader," he said. "When his house burned down in the California fires of 2007, he was held in such regard that fellow builders donated material and time to rebuild his home."

Eddie Brown, who heads Brown Capital Management, was both a client and close family friend.

"We did several historic restoration projects together and that's how we got to know the family," said Mr. Brown.

"And Mat was always the lead person. He was very likable and easy-going and kept things moving while at the same time demanding quality workmanship," said Mr. Brown. "We're all very sad. It's such a young age to lose him."

Mr. Azola restored a Brownstone in the 1200 block of N. Calvert St. that became headquarters of The Brownstone Project.

"When he was doing that, I saw Mat on a regular basis and that went on for a couple of years," said Charlene P. Gross, president of The Brownstone Project.

"Doing restoration can be the pits and nothing seems to get done on time, but he was cool about it. He was a ray of sunshine around here and did all he could to please," recalled Ms. Gross. "I know Mat's up there with the angels smiling."

"He was a very hard worker and a good guy. Everyone liked Mat," said Richard J. "Dick" Roszel, a Baltimore real estate broker.

Kirsten Azola, who is an interior designer and head of marketing for Azola Cos., worked closely with her brother.

"Mat and I had a special bond. He was a very warm and loving person, the kind of person who'd give anybody the shirt off his back," said Ms. Azola, who lives in North Roland Park. "He was such a talented man and the light of my life."

Mr. Azola enjoyed fishing, target shooting and making furniture. At his death, he was restoring a classic California hot rod, his father said.

"He had the Azola talent for gorgeous restoration," said Mrs. Lord. "The buildings that were his work here in Baltimore and in California are his testament."

Mr. Azola was a member of Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church, 1912 Old Court Road, Riderwood, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Also surviving is his mother, Lone Azola of North Roland Park.