On Monday morning, Feb. 26, the American flag hung at half-mast outside the National Automobile Dealers Association headquarters in McLean, Va.
For most NADA employees, that was the first sign something was wrong.
Frank McCarthy, the president and chief executive of NADA for 33 years, had died the night before of kidney cancer. He was 66.
His death came as a shock to co-workers. An avid softball player and golfer, McCarthy always seemed to be in perfect health. He had even bounced back after having a kidney removed and was able to attend the NADA convention in Las Vegas last month.
'He was vibrant,' said Ramsay Gillman, a past chairman of NADA and chairman of Gillman Cos. in Houston.
Said Harold Wells, the 2000 chairman of NADA and president of Wells Automotive in Whiteville, N.C.: 'He was a man who left an impression on everyone he met. He was respected by government, by dealers, by manufacturers and by the marketplace.'
Dealers who knew him say McCarthy did more for the franchised dealers than anyone. Under his watch, the NADA staff grew from 175 to 475. When he came on board in 1968, NADA had $785,000 in cash and net assets worth $4 million. At the end of 2000, the association had assets of $125 million and $89 million in the bank.
McCarthy's influence on Capitol Hill helped dealers fight unfavorable regulation, and he shepherded the dealers through many tight situations with the factories.
McCarthy often is described as unique. Others have made it to the top of their field, as he did. Many also are brilliant lawyers and astute politicians, as he was known to be. But his admirers say few people have balanced work and family, public and private life with such aplomb.
'Frank McCarthy was a complete package,' said Paul Holloway, a past NADA chairman and president of Dreher-Holloway Inc. in Exeter, N.H.
McCarthy was legislative counsel to the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Rules Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives before joining NADA in 1968 as chief executive.
He received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1998, McCarthy was named Association Executive of the Year by Association Trends newspaper. And he was presented the International Freedom of Mobility Award in a special tribute at this year's NADA convention. The National Automobile Dealers Charitable Foundation gives the award each year to honor a person whose actions promote the personal freedom to choose where, when and how to travel.
Walter Huizenga, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association and a former employee of McCarthy's, said McCarthy will be remembered most for his kindness and wisdom.
Known for kindness
'He was the kindest, most caring boss anyone could want to have,' Huizenga said. 'And he always put the members first. He said to always remember who you work for,' he said, referring to NADA members.
McCarthy also was known as a hero to his five children and 12 grandchildren. His wife, Patricia McCarthy, said he always was home for dinner when his children were growing up, did not work weekends and attended all their athletic events.
McCarthy's colleagues said he placed a premium on relationships.
When he was in the hospital being treated for cancer, McCarthy even tried to encourage his doctors. 'He amazes me,' said his wife. 'He takes time for everyone. Everyone who comes near him, he has to affirm in some way.'
And many have said that because McCarthy put others ahead of himself, his influence will continue to thrive.