Malcolm S. Pray, whose name is synonymous with collector cars and philanthropy in Greenwich, has died.
Mr. Pray, who suffered a stroke in July, died Aug. 25. He was 84.
Mr. Pray was remembered Monday for his philanthropy and business acumen, which he capitalized on by working as a car salesman and developing into a group of Greenwich car dealerships selling Volkswagens, Audis, Porsches and Saabs for decades. He sold his dealerships in 1999 to the New Country Auto Group and focused on sharing his enthusiasm for all things automotive by establishing a museum and the Pray Achievement Center with his collection of nearly 80 cars, just across the backcountry Greenwich border in Banksville, NY.
"I don’t think there is an organization in town that he hasn’t given his resources to," said Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei. "He was very proud of The Achievement Center. He was very proud of the impact it had on young people from urban inner cities, areas that wouldn’t necessarily exposed to his underlying message of work hard, stay in school, stick to the core principals do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Tesei added, "He was an inspiration to these young people. It would be his lasting legacy to hundreds, if not thousands of students who came through the center. There’s no question they will remember what he did and told them."
Bruce Wennerstrom, the founder and chairman of the annual Greenwich Concours, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for AmeriCares, said, "Malcolm Pray was my friend and neighbor for many years. We shared a passion for classic and vintage cars. He was also a long-time member of my Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society."
Wennerstrom added, "When my wife, Genia, and I founded the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance in 1996, Malcolm's favorite car, a 1937 Delahaye, was our first poster car, and he regularly entered his cars in the Concours, as well as lending us his golf cart during each year for field duties. As the largest Audi dealer in the United States, Malcolm was responsible for Audi becoming an early sponsor of the Greenwich Concours, which was a great help."
That 1937 Delahaye is what sparked Mr. Pray's interest in automobiles.
It was in 1939 — the same year his family moved to Greenwich — that he attended the New York World’s Fair and saw the Delahaye, according to PrayBodyShop.com, the website for the Stamford auto repair business he maintained until his death. Several years later, Mr. Pray bought the car at auction and restored it to its original splendor.
In 1955, he went to work for Morlee Motors on the Post Road in Greenwich, a small imported car dealership just up the road from the eventual complex of dealerships that he created on West Putnam Avenue and ran for 45 years.
Mr. Pray believed that service was the most important element to customer satisfaction and, therefore, building a successful business. Pray Audi (the first dealer to sign up for a new Audi franchise) became the No. 1 Audi dealer in the United States for six straight years.
Mr. Pray was one of the founding members of AIADA (American International Automobile Dealers Association) and member of the board of directors from 1970 to 1980, serving as president 1973 to 1974. He was chairman of the National Volkswagen Dealer Council from 1969 to 1970; chairman of the National Porsche Audi Dealer Council from 1971 to 1976; and president of the Connecticut Volkswagen Dealers Association in 1972. He also was president of the Greenwich Automobile Dealers Association from 1962 to 1965 and 1990 to 1999.
Mr. Pray was very active in many civic, charitable and political affairs.
He was involved with the Greenwich Boy Scout Council for more than 30 years, and supported "our annual Eagle Dinner, which was Malcolm Pray Friends of Eagles Award," said Kevin O'Shea, scout executive for Greenwich Scouting.
He also hosted a number of galas for the Scouts and hosted them at the Pray Achievement Center, O'Shea said.
Mr. Pray, himself a Boy Scout while growing up, arranged for the construction of the Malcolm S. Pray III Memorial Building at the Ernest Thompson Seton Scout Reservation on Riversville Road. Completed in 1989, the building is a living monument to Mr. Pray's son, who was killed in an auto accident in 1986.
Greenwich Police Chief James Heavey recalled, "I've known him since I was a kid. He was very influential with the Boy Scouts ... he would come up to Camp Seton and take kids from troops who were from out of town in his car, to see his car collection. He would take the time to tell them they could become millionaires if they worked hard."
Heavey said the life lessons Mr. Pray imparted upon youngsters are evident in his own son, Jamie. "When I told my kids Mr. Pray had passed, my son said he remembers when he met him as a youngster and told him to make an impression 'You look someone in the eyes when you shake their hand.'"
Mr. Pray also supported the Greenwich Retired Police Officers Association by hosting the group's annual summer picnic at his Round Hill Road estate, Heavey said.
Heavey said that about a year ago retired Chief Raymond Grant gave him a Greenwich Time article and photo showing Pray presenting Grant the keys to Volkswagen Rabbits the department bought from the dealership to conserve gas during the 1981 gasoline crisis.
Mr. Pray also served on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club and the Greenwich Historical Society.
Tesei also recalled Mr. Pray's support of the Republican party. He had served as honorary chair of each of Tesei's first selectman election campaigns since 2007.
"He always would say 'just be you.' That's the advice he always gave me ... He was very honest. He was just a wonderfully direct and patriotic good guy. He really believed in our town and the values that made our country strong."
Mr. Pray is survived by his wife Natalie, three daughters, Melanie, Sabrina and Tina, and several grandchildren.
Services have not been announced.
(This story, originally published at 12 p.m. Aug. 26, has been updated to include information from Chief James Heavey.)