Honoring Peter Pratt – Legendary Storyteller

Tuesday February 20, 2024

Peter W. Pratt in his Hobby Shop

REGIONAL – One of Georgetown’s treasures was Peter Pratt, who for almost a half century sat behind a display case he used as a desk surrounded by an eclectic array of large and small toys, vintage coins and his favorite soap box derby kits.
The Pratt Hobby Shop at 20 Main St., Georgetown, buys and sells coins, silver and gold and an ever-changing inventory of model plane kits and other hobby kits. You never know what you might find there.
For more than forty years, Pratt generously advised friends and customers and the occasional newspaper reporter on everything from business to life. At times for those who needed a helping hand, he opened the register.
Scott Paganelli, who knew him as a friend and mentor since he was 10, recalls Peter helping those who needed gas money. He never expected to see it paid back, but was always pleased when it was.
Pratt W. Pratt, who touched many lives and was loved by many for his sense of humor, passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 30 at the Lawrence General Hospital.
His wife, Nancy, has scheduled a Celebration of Life to honor Peter from noon to 4 p.m. on June 8 in Coolidge Hall at the Topsfield Fair. Nancy also infused some of Peter’s ashes into a blue t-shirt that is worn by a toy bear on a high shelf in the shop.
“If you want to say hello to Peter, he’s still here,” Paganelli said.
Born in Danvers, the oldest of 10 children to the late John W. and Mildred (Osborne)Peter is survived by his wife, Nancy (Jackson) of Bradford, their daughters, Laurie Mackillop of Amesbury, Jennifer Pratt of Vero Beach, FL, Amber and Zack Haggstrom and their children of Epping, NH. He is also survived by his siblings, Kenneth Pratt and his wife Jeanne of Haverhill, Brian Pratt and his wife Karen of Amesbury, Mildred Bromley of Wenham, Linda Pratt of Danvers, Patricia Dow of Danville, NH, Janice Woodward and her husband Steven of Haverhill and Deborah Soehner of Haverhill as well as many nieces and nephews. Peter was predeceased by his son, Michael Mackillop, his siblings, Sally Griffin and John Pratt, Jr.
Peter graduated from Masconomet High School and became an entrepreneur from an early age. As the owner of the hobby shop, “He developed many friendships and never met a stranger. He loved people and was very outgoing in nature,” his obituary states in what is an understatement.
Peter loved to sponsor the Little League and Scouts, especially the Pine Wood Car Derby. Over the years he ran parking lot races in the commuter parking lot, fixed model cars on Friday nights, sponsored an Ipswich racing group and spent 35 years helping troops 50 and 51 with the Pinewood Derby.
R.J. Kennedy wrote of Pratt, “In 2010, my eight-year-old son listened closely to Mr. Pratt as he offered helpful tips and insights on building the fastest Pinewood Derby car. We followed those tips to the letter — and my son took first place in the Derby in Boxford. It was a very happy day.”
For a few youthful derby car builders, who did not have the money, Pratt was known to advance the price of the kit. He said it was a chance to study the young person’s character to see if he or she would return bringing the money.
He took pride in counseling generations of customers, young and old. Watching children grow up and come back into the shop with their own children meant the world to him.
Mary Jane Mullen, a friend, wrote on Facebook of him, “All were always welcome to stop in and say hello or needed Pete’s expertise on multiple topics. The world is a sadder place without Pete in it.”
It was almost impossible to have a short visit to his shop. Paganelli, who with his wife Rose bought the hobby shop in 2020, when his friend and mentor retired, called him “a legendary storyteller.”
He matched his story to the listener, drawing on his wealth of knowledge and adventures not just to entertain, but to inspire and educate. He was particularly fond regaling visitors to the shop about his hunts for coins.
“I recall speaking with Peter and he strongly believed there is still an undiscovered large treasure buried along a shore of Plum Island Sound or one of its tributary rivers,” wrote Marc Maravalli, the founder and publisher of this newspaper.
Maravalli continued, “While chatting with Dana Perkins of Georgetown about Peter’s passing, Dana recalled visiting Peter’s shop years ago and hearing about this local treasure myth. Dana told me, ‘Peter and his wife went on a treasure hunting trip in Florida with Mel Fisher.’” Fisher is known for finding the ‘Atocha’ wreck of 1622. “Perkins recalled Peter saying, ‘It was one of the most interesting days of my life. The crew wined and dined us and when we told them where we were from Mel spoke up and said, ‘There’s still a large pirate treasure to be discovered in Ipswich Bay.’ The problem is that you can’t treasure hunt on Federal land.’”
One of his favorite stories, he told this reporter, was of finding a buried coin that commemorated the inauguration of President George Washington.
In his free time, particularly after he retired, Peter headed to his cabin in Unity, ME, where he enjoyed hunting, fishing and riding four wheelers. He was a great animal lover, especially his cats, Donald and Jackson.
On three occasions over the years, people walked into his shop to thank him for being a friend, then went home and passed away within hours, Maravalli said. He believed that he was the last person each of them spoke with before dying.
Pratt was also shrewd in his many investments. He talked of making and losing a million dollars through the years.
Paganelli recalled that a man sold him a trailer filled with molded plastic boats. Peter sold them on the sidewalk in front of his shop.
One investment as a children’s educational book publisher did not pan out well. Before its time, the books were an interactive style that encouraged learning. An Asian publisher stole the idea and undersold him, Maravalli recalled. He kept a few of the books around the shop to support his story.
He talked of making and losing a million dollars twice over the years in other businesses. He made lots of money selling Beanie Babies, he said. He had a gift for spotting trends and jumped on what was hot, he said.
Peter was robbed in the shop several times. Maravalli recalls hearing one story where Peter clocked a robber so hard that he fell to the floor and his eye popped out of the socket. The guy put his hand up to his face and ran out of the shop.
During the winter, he plowed snow to make extra money. One snowfall, a customer, who was behind in his payments, called him to plow the driveway for a wedding reception. Peter agreed, but only on the condition that the customer pay him what he was owed. After he plowed the driveway, the customer tried not to pay him, which made Pratt so angry he went out and started pushing the snow back into the driveway. The customer paid him.
Pratt started as a night foreman at United Shoe in Beverly, but injured his lower back in 1972 and lost his job two years later.
He had always wanted to work for myself, so he opened the hobby shop in 1974. Ten years later, he invested in a chain of laundromats, a jewelry store, an antique shop and the educational publishing company.
As he neared 80, his wife, Nancy, told him he was working too hard. He had survived heart surgery and she wanted him to slow down. He sold the inventory to Paganelli and moved to Maine where they owned 125 acres on the area’s highest hill. The property had five miles of trails for his four wheelers which he enjoyed riding on with friends and family.
On the 40th anniversary of his shop, Pratt said he had a wonderful 40 years in Georgetown. He had fun running the business and couldn’t wait to come to work every day. If you love what you do, he was fond of telling those who came in the shop, “never give up. If you fail, just get back up and do it again.”

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