Gaetano James Matro oversaw workers on more than 500 acres of fruit and vegetable farmland, but he still liked to get his boots muddy.
"When he got out of the hospital the first time, on Jan. 6, he went right back to work that same day," son Guy said, referring to lung problems his father, known as James, was battling. He was out in a field, his son said, trimming blackberry vines.
On Sunday, March 8, Mr. Matro, 74, of Hammonton, N.J., owner of the Matro Family Farms in Winslow Township, died of his lung problems at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.
"Jim was a tremendous, hardworking family man," Hammonton Mayor Steve DiDonato said.
"He was a champion of the underdog," DiDonato said.
Mr. Matro was a member of Hammonton First, an independent political group founded in 2005 that helped elect reform-minded candidates, he said.
One of them was DiDonato, who began his second four-year term in January.
Born in Elm, N.J., Mr. Matro graduated from St. Joseph High School in Hammonton in 1958, and earned a bachelor's degree at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown in 1962 and a master's at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1964, both in horticulture.
The farm, begun by Mr. Matro's grandfather, Gaetano, after he arrived from Naples, Italy, in 1903, now focuses mostly on blueberries and sweet potatoes, Guy Matro said.
Matro Family Farms owns 300 acres and rents 200 more, Guy Matro said, and as the owner, Mr. Matro was responsible for putting all his acreage into the Camden County farm preservation program.
"He was always happy that he knew the farm would continue to be a farm," Guy said. Mr. Matro's grandchildren are the fifth generation of Matro farmers.
A member of the Hammonton Zoning Board, Mr. Matro had been its president since 2010.
Besides his son, Mr. Matro is survived by his wife of 49 years, Marty; sons Jimmy and John; daughters Annmarie Long, Francine McCarty and Marcia Marble; a sister; and 18 grandchildren.
Viewings were set from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 13, and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Marinella Funeral Home, 102 N. Third St., Hammonton, before an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church, 226 French St., Hammonton, with burial in Oak Grove Cemetery there.
Donations may be sent to the St. Joseph High School Annual Fund, 328 Vine St., Hammonton, N.J. 08037.
Condolences may be offered to the family at www.marinellafuneralhome.com.