March 7th 2005. Our first day with shop doors open to the public here at The Garage in Pelham. Neither Richard nor myself truly understood just how much we didn’t understand. Having never been in the automotive business before, we were both as green as we could be. We often laughed years later about our many follies and wondered how in the world some people were kind enough to keep coming back to these two guys that knew nothing about car repairs. God definitely had his hand on The Garage and Richard set forth great principles for running a successful business.
For those of you that do not know, Richard passed away unexpectedly on September 30,2022. I wanted to take some time and reflect on what he has meant to me as a person as well as his family and this business. Below are some excerpts from a letter I wrote for his family that I thought would be appropriate to share here as well. Many of you called, messaged, and prayed for us and his family and we are so appreciative of this community.
As strange and morbid as this may sound, I’ve actually thought about this day for a very long time. I can remember from very early days of meeting Richard that he would share stories about a man that mentored him named John Staulhut. They worked closely together for a large part of Richard’s early business years and were quite close. Oddly enough I had a connection to John’s family because his daughter babysat me when I was only a few years old. Such a small world. Richard always spoke highly of John and what a great influence John had on Richard’s life. He would go on to tell me what a privilege it was to speak at his memorial and tell others of the great influence John had in his life. I could tell pretty early on that Richard was going to be that mentor for me and hoped I too would get to share my experience with others just as he did. I just assumed I would be much older and wiser than in this moment when the time came. He was taken much too early from us.
While obviously not a son of Richard’s, I certainly looked to him as a father figure in my life. I’d like to think that at times he too saw me as a son. I had the honor of working with and for Richard for nearly a decade at The Garage. I’d like to think he hired me because of
some special talent or skill set that he saw in me, but the reality of it is that his new business, The Garage, was due to open its doors in less than a week and I had a pulse. The bar was set pretty low.
After about six months of working together it somehow came up in conversation that my dad and Richard used to work side by side many years ago in a computer software company. Again…small world. Richard’s family and my family became heavily intertwined over the next 10 years or so. Our circles overlapped in many ways. My wife and I had just gotten married and were in a Sunday school class that Richard and Sandra led. We worked together six days a week and then did church together on Sunday. We were literally each other’s work wives!. We shared many meals together, a love for cars, a love for the automotive business, and a love for our family. He trained and led me well.
Today I owe much of who I am as father, business owner, and man to my time living and working side by side with Richard for so many years. His absence is going to leave a great void
in his church and family. When I think of him, several significant words come to mind. Merciful, Strong, and Family. Short of our REAL spouses, few people know how tough those first couple of years at The Garage really were. Two guys with zero automotive experience, working 6 days a week, with a handful of mechanics that came and went like a revolving door.
I can remember being about 2 years in and having gone through literally 15-20 mechanics. We had to have some hard conversations with each other about not knowing if this thing we call “The Garage” was actually going to work.
Richard’s resolve never wavered though and clearly we were able to get this thing to work! Richard poured everything he had into that business to make it successful and it was a much longer & more painful process than most know. Despite all of the challenges (personal, time, financial) I regularly watched that man, against my recommendation I might add, pay out of his own pocket for other people’s car repairs. Single moms, Family members, Church members, and even his own employees. He always gave his employees the benefit of the doubt…and if you can imagine dealing with technicians…there was usually plenty of
doubt to go around. He always approached each of us, his family, and his customers with Mercy. I will never forget that about him.
Finding the balance between Mercy and Strength is a fine line to walk. I would say few people get both of those right, but Richard had just the right measure of each and they balanced his gifts well. He was not only a physically strong guy, but he was mentally and spiritually tough as well. It takes a lot of grit/resolve to start your own business. It takes even more to work alongside a 25 year old know it all with an enneagram 8 personality and not kill him (ME). We had a lot of fun together. We shared a passion for cars, all things horsepower, motorcycles, family, and building a successful business. There were lots of ups and downs but he never wavered and I always had confidence we could keep moving forward together really no matter what came our way…and trust me…some weird stuff came our way.
With Richard’s passing go a lot of funny memories and stories that no one else will be able to share with me. Stories like finding out your employee isn’t at work because you found him on a google search of Shelby county’s inmate page…complete with mugshot of said employee in your “The Garage” uniform. Or stories like the time an employee fell asleep under a vehicle mid oil change. There are just so many things I will miss being able to share with him.
Lastly and most importantly, he was a family man. I came along just when he and Sandra were getting into their paw and nana roles. It was a job he took very
Seriously. He truly cherished his kids and grandkids. He bent over backwards for his family in ways that they will never know. Something I always admired too was that whenever he talked about Sandra he always referred to her as “his bride.” Some 50+ years of marriage later and his love for her was stronger than ever. Just last week when we got together for lunch, I got a complete update of where all the children and grandkids were in life. You could tell there was a lot of pride in that man for his family. He married young and married for life. That’s something worth admiring. His passing is going to leave a Richard sized hole that won’t truly be recognized for some time to come.
My family and I are eternally grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to us because of Richard. He was an excellent friend, mentor, and co worker. He loved Jesus well and left us with a lot of great memories that I will cherish forever. Thank you to the Roberts family for sharing him with us. Until we meet again.