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Developing Story

Alumnus George Scagos '52 holding an old photo of he and his late wife.
George Scagos ’52, ’58 holds a photo of him and his late wife, Pearl taken in 1953 and presumed lost after a fire claimed many of the couple's possessions in the 1960s.

By Ed Brennen

George Scagos ’52, ’58 still remembers the day—April 12, 1953—when he and his new bride, Pearl, visited photographer George Poirier’s studio at the foot of the old Moody Street Bridge, across the Merrimack River from the Lowell Technological Institute. They sat for a portrait, George in his crisp U.S. Navy service dress khakis and Pearl in a beautiful sleeveless dress with a neat string of (what else?) pearls cascading from her collar.

It was the couple’s most treasured photo of themselves—and one they thought they’d lost forever when a small fire broke out at their Rhode Island home in the early 1960s.

In 2014, Pearl lost a lengthy battle to cancer at age 84, leaving George a widower after 61 years of marriage. This May, while attending the university’s Golden Alumni Weekend, he asked the event photographer if she knew what had become of the archives of the legendary Poirier, who had died a month earlier at age 89. Told that Poirier’s entire collection of more than a million negatives and prints had been donated to the university, Scagos decided to start calling around to see if someone could track down the negative of his long-lost print.

Mehmed Ali, left, presents George Scagos ’52, ’58 with lost photos of him and his wife, Pearl.
Mehmed Ali, left, presents Scagos with the lost photos.
One month later, on a perfect June morning, the 86-year-old Scagos returned to campus and was presented with new prints of the photo.

“Oh my goodness … My goodness,” Scagos said as he laid eyes on the image for the first time in more than 50 years. “Unreal. I can’t believe it. She was a beauty. And geez, who’s that guy there?”

The special presentation at the O’Leary Learning Commons was arranged by Libraries Director George Hart and Project and Program Coordinator Mehmed Ali, along with Executive Director of Alumni Relations Heather Makrez ‘06, ’08 and Special Adviser Diane Earl. Ali said Poirier’s “invaluable” archives, which are now kept at the Center for Lowell History, were so well-organized that it took him a matter of minutes to track down the image Scagos was looking for.

For Scagos, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in textile chemistry from Lowell Tech, seeing the photo opened an attic door of memories. Born in Manlius, N.Y., in 1930, he recalled moving to Lowell at age 6 after losing both his parents in a two-year span. Scagos and his two siblings lived with their aunt and uncle and their seven children, first in the Acre neighborhood and then Pawtucketville. Scagos remembered going to a friend’s house when he was around 13 and seeing his friend’s older sister, who was around 16. It was Pearl.

“I said, ‘My goodness, how come I never saw her before?’ ” Scagos recalled. “He said, ‘She’s shy. She doesn’t associate with people.’ ”

After several years of persistence, Pearl finally agreed to associate with George. After he finished his bachelor’s degree, and before the Navy shipped him off to the Korean War, they got married in July 1952. Upon earning his master’s degree in 1958, George took a job as technical service rep at Raffi & Swanson (now AllCoat Technology) in Wilmington, Mass., selling paint to the costume jewelry industry. The company moved him to Barrington, R.I., in 1960, where he and Pearl raised two sons, Richard and Michael. George spent his entire career with the company and still lives in the same house. Every Wednesday he makes the 80-mile drive up to Lowell to have lunch with his sister at the Olympia Restaurant.

“It’s nice to have this photo back,” Scagos said as he departed O’Leary and headed to the Olympia. “Pearl was a nice-looking girl. I had no idea she was so smart when I married her. She put her mind to something and she did it. She was a beauty.”