Maurice O’Daniel, a local auto dealer known for his hard work and big heart, has died, his son confirmed Saturday. O’Daniel was 89.
Greg O’Daniel said his father suffered from dementia and had been in poor health for the past couple of months. He died at home early Friday morning. His wife of 65 years, Gerry, was at his side.
“He led a good, long life,” Greg O’Daniel said. “We’re celebrating.”
Known to family and friends as Maury, O’Daniel moved to Fort Wayne from Evansville in 1979, when he opened an Oldsmobile dealership.
Today, O’Daniel Automotive Group operates five locations and represents eight new car manufacturers, including Ford, Chrysler, Audi and Mazda.
The youngest of 10 children, O’Daniel grew up in Evansville, where he learned the trade from his older brothers, several of whom worked in dealerships.
“We all found out that we had the same talent,” O’Daniel told The News-Sentinel in a 1983 interview. “We were salesmen. It came natural to us. It was easy and, because it’s such a natural thing, we did it. It’s as easy for us to run an auto agency as it is for Jack Nicklaus to play golf.”
After graduating from high school in 1950, O’Daniel earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. He spent two years in the Army before joining O’Daniel-Ranes Oldsmobile in Evansville in 1957. He became a partner in the business in 1969 before deciding to strike out on his own a decade later.
As the father of six, O’Daniel continued to approach business as a family affair in Fort Wayne.
Greg O’Daniel remembers washing cars on his dad’s car lots for 10 years, beginning at age 12 or 13, before finally being allowed to drive a truck to transport parts.
“He instilled in us you have to work for what you get,” Greg O’Daniel said. “No special favors.”
Randy, Jeff and Greg O’Daniel now co-own O’Daniel Automotive Group.
Maury O’Daniel was also the father of Susan Henderson, Debbie Lamb and Andrew O’Daniel. He is also survived by 18 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Greg O’Daniel described his father as “a very likable person.”
“He had a huge heart and loved to help others. And he was a really smart man.”
Maury O’Daniel, his son said, “was a doer.”
Greg O’Daniel recalled seeing his father – in dress shirt and tie – using hand-held clippers to trim the voluminous ivy that covered the front of the dealership’s building. The daily task would take him about two weeks to complete.
“He just had a passion to work in the yard,” Greg O’Daniel said. “He loved to trim bushes. He loved to trim trees.”
O’Daniel also had a passion for supporting nonprofits, including Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana, Matthew 25 health clinic, the University of Saint Francis and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce.
“He was really proud of his involvement with the local community,” Greg O’Daniel said.
Funeral arrangements are pending at D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Homes.