Booming voice of ‘Big Al’ still at 83
BOZMAN — “When Big Al was in the room, you always knew it,” his nephew Michael Loretangeli said. “He was big in size, big in friendliness and big in voice.”
“Big Al” — Alan Thomas Poore Sr. — died on Saturday, Oct. 28, surrounded by his family at his home in Bozman. He was 83.
A quintessential Eastern Shore boy, Big Al embraced life on the water and, along with his wife Rea, built his own down-home brand of business on its bounty, touching the lives of every one he met with his big, booming, gregarious personality. “That booming voice,” Loretangeli said. “I would have friends over and they would say, ‘Why is he yelling?’ and I would say, ‘He’s not yelling, he’s talking,’” his greatgranddaughter Kelcy Murphy said.
“I’m pretty sure you almost never had to ask Big Al to repeat a sentence, because you always heard him loud and clear the first time,” Loretangeli said.
Loretangeli and Murphy were among the speakers at Poore’s funeral, held Friday, Nov. 3, at Bozman United Methodist Church.
“Big Al” Poore was born in Bozman on Sept. 29, 1934, the son of the late William Gilbert Poore and Etta Rebecca Harrison Poore.
After attending St. Michaels High School, he married his childhood sweetheart at the age of 19. She was the former Rea Jean Sweitzer.
“The boy from Bozman met the girl from Tilghman in seventh grade and married her at the age of 18 on Jan. 31, 1953,” Loretangeli said.
He said you can’t tell a story about Big Al without telling a story about Rea.
“The two have been inseparable throughout their lives, at home, at work and in business,” Loretangeli said.
Loretangeli said at a very young age, one of Big Al’s first jobs was working on the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry.
It was July 1952, and the first length of the Chesapeake Bay bridge was almost near completion.
Poore was aboard the ferry John M. Dennis under the helm of Capt. Edward C. Higgins.
“They were taking the boat to dry dock in Baltimore without cars or passengers, and as they were crossing the Bay, so the story goes, I guess they figured it was inevitable, and somebody had to be first, so they rammed the Bay Bridge,” Loretangeli said. “Accidentally, of course.”
Five months after the new Bay Bridge opened, the ferry line stopped running.
Poore decided to try a career as a waterman, and Rea joined him.
The two caught crabs in the summer and oysters in the winter, working the Tred Avon and Miles rivers, and sometimes even the Potomac, their son Larry Poore said.
Larry Poore said those were long days for his parents, when they got up at 4 a.m. to work the water, then drove to the city to deliver the catch, not returning home until 6 p.m. or later.
Eventually, they moved from working the water to selling live and steamed crabs from a free-standing shack at Kastell’s Marina, where the St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa is now.
The owner of the marina, Fred Kastell, is credited with giving Poore the nickname “Big Al.”
“It seems as though that nickname stuck,” Loretangeli said.
In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, they moved their growing business to their garage at home in Bozman, and it was there that they began to develop a wholesale business, buying and distributing crabs.
“Big Al’s catch would arrive by 8 a.m., and by noon, the Big Al’s seafood trucks were on the road to crab houses and restaurants.” Loretangeli said.
Big Al’s delivered crabs to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Ocean City and most places in between.
“One of the basic requirements of being a child or a grandchild of Big Al and Rea is that you better learn to drive a crab truck pretty fast,” Loretangeli said.
In the late 1970s, the Poores began looking for a way to get their seafood business out of their home.
They bought the old Sam’s Service Station on Talbot Street in St. Michaels in 1978.
They kept the building as a service station for a year, then began to transition to a wholesale and retail seafood distribution center and deli. They tore the old gas pumps out.
From 1980 on, the business was known as Big Al’s Market, with wholesale seafood distribution in the back, and retail seafood and deli in the front.
Tourists and townsfolk alike could stop by and get a short-order crab cake, sub or scrabble sandwich, along with many other items on the menu.
At first, it was carry-out only, with no seats, but eventually they added a few tables inside and out for people to relax and enjoy the food.
“My father and my mother, Rea, never missed a day,” Alan Poore Jr. said in a 2014 interview with place for locals and those just passing through. Lots of famous people also showed up at Big Al’s Market, including former Baltimore Colts; Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins linebacker Mike Curtis; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson; former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; former Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Canadian ice hockey defenseman Bryan Watson.
“If you were well known, Dad would make you sign a piece of white paper,” Alan Poore Jr. said. “We had a whole wall of white paper.”
He said his father and mother made it a point to greet every person who walked through the door.
“It was at the store that Big Al was in his glory,” Loretangeli said. He said socializing and interacting with people was one of Big Al’s favorite pastimes.
“If he wasn’t in the back of the store talking to his crabbers, he was in the front of the store greeting and talking to his customers, telling them stories,” Loretangeli said.
“In his long history, Big Al employed over 200 boys, girls, men and women,” he said. Several of them were in the church for the funeral.
And nearly all of Big Al’s five children, five grandchildren and seven greatgrandchildren worked in the store. They also have one great-great-granddaughter.
Poore was a devoted Orioles fan and avid Eastern Shoreman. Along with working on the water, making a living from the water, he enjoyed hunting.
He was a stalwart member of the community, a former president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Association, former board member of the Miles River Yacht Club, lifetime member of Ducks Unlimited Bay Hundred Chapter and a lifelong member of the Moose Lodge 1520.
“However, his greatest accomplishment was his generosity,” Loretangeli said. “Many members of the community, including fellow watermen, employees and family, all benefited from his willingness to share his and Rea’s good fortune from their hard work.”
“I guess when you work double shifts for 40 years, good things happen,” Loretangeli said.
“Everyone I met knew I was Big Al’s great-granddaughter,” Murphy said. “Nine times out of 10, people would come up to me and say how great my (great) grandfather was. Many people thought the world of him.”
Big Al and Rea retired from their store in 2012, and their sons Alan Jr. and Larry took over the business. In the aftermath of the economic downturn of 2008, the store building had to be sold. Then Big Al’s Market closed its doors in late 2013. Since then, the building has been demolished.
In retirement and even before, Big Al energetically kept his rocking chair and his outdoor swing in constant motion, even wearing them out.
“The man never met a rocking chair he couldn’t break,” Loretangeli said. “Rea searched far and wide for the indestructible rocking chair.”
Loretangeli said Big Al kept his outdoor swing going “500 miles an hour.”
“That’s only a slight exaggeration,” Loretangeli said.
He said anyone who wanted to join him on the swing would have to time it correctly and jump on, because he would slow down only a little and not stop.
“He impacted every one he met,” Murphy said. “Whether it was his iconic, loud voice, his work ethic or his caring, kind heart.”
“All of us here today are better people for having known him,” Loretangeli said, “and for getting to share his very full and wonderful life. We love you, Big Al, and will miss you. Rest in peace.”
Poore is survived by his wife of 64 years, Rea Sweitzer Poore; daughter, Karen Poore Vincent and her husband Bill; son, Alan T. Poore Jr. and his wife Helen; son, Mark Harrison Poore, all of Bozman; son, Larry D. Poore and his wife Sharon of St. Michaels; five grandchildren, including Johnny Scharch, Jennifer Murphy and her husband Chuck, Cara Poore Hughes, Thomas Kyle Poore and his wife Meagan, and Charles Joshua Poore. He is survived by seven great-grandchildren, as well as many nieces and nephews, and one greatgreat-granddaughter.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his daughter, Kimberly Jean Poore; brother, William G. Poore II; and sister, Loretta Poore Davenport.
Funeral services were held at the Bozman United Methodist Church with the Rev. Martin Wiley officiating.
Pallbearers were Bert Blades, Jeff Richardson, Trevor Hammon, Bryant Pinder, Phil Hambleton and Keller Longenecker.
Music was provided by Martha Bogan and Bert Thamert.
Funeral services were provided by the Framptom Funeral Home — Ostrowski Chapel in St. Michaels.
Expressions of sympathy may be made in his name to the Talbot Hospice Foundation, 586 Cynwood Drive, Easton, MD 21601.
Share memories with the family at www.framptom. com.
Community News Editor Katie Willis contributed to this story. Follow me on Twitter @chrisp_stardem. Email me at email@example.com.
ALAN THOMAS POORE SR.
“Big Al” Poore, left, was an avid Eastern Shoreman and frequently hunted with his sons, Alan Poore Jr. and Larry Poore.