Richard M. ‘Dick’ Sam­mis

The auto dealer who was the man be­hind the ‘Mr. No­body’ ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign was a resident of Luthervill­e

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Rasmussen

Richard M. “Dick” Sam­mis, the joc­u­lar Bal­ti­more auto dealer who was the man be­hind the “Mr. No­body” ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that kept cus­tomers en­ter­tained for years, died Sept. 4 of com­pli­ca­tions from a heart at­tack at Stella Maris Hospice. The Luthervill­e resident was 79.

“Richard was old-school and a work­ing class guy who just worked harder,” for­mer Ori­oles pitcher Jim Palmer said. “He was a man of the peo­ple and a great sales­man. He’d tell you what he was go­ing to do, and then he’d do it. He just didn’t roll up in a li­mou­sine, step out, and start snap­ping fin­gers at peo­ple. He­was just a gen­uine guy.”

Said Howard Zei­den of Pikesville, owner of Zei­den Con­sult­ing En­ter­prises: “Out­go­ing doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe Dick. He was a lot of fun, ran a good deal­er­ship, and was a good busi­ness­man. I came to Bal­ti­more in 1981 as na­tional sales manager for WMARTV, and that’s when I got to know him, and we’ve been friends for nearly 40 years. He was one of our larger cus­tomers and a good client.”

Richard Marshall Sam­mis, the son of William Henry “Bill” Sam­mis, manager of Go­vans Chevro­let, and his wife, Eve­lyn Turner Sam­mis, a beau­ti­cian, was born in Bal­ti­more and raised on Beau­mont Av­enue in Go­vans.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1959 from Polytech­nic In­sti­tute, he en­listed in the Navy and served aboard the de­stroyer USS Wil­lard Keith as a sig­nal­man. He was dis­charged with the rank of third mate in 1961.

“Richard grew up in the car busi­ness,” said a sis­ter, Mar­sha Bynion, a Ti­mo­nium resident. “In the 1960s, he opened up Sam­mis Mo­tors, a repair shop, in Tow­son.”

Mr. Sam­mis later owned Gulf and Tex­aco fill­ing sta­tions on York Road and in 1974 pur­chased with his fa­ther Ti­mo­nium Auto Sales. The next year, he es­tab­lished Town & Coun­try Nis­san in Perry Hall, which he sold to CarMax in 1999.

He later added a Town & Coun­try Dat­sun-AMC-Jeep on Har­ford Road, and his largest deal­er­ship was Town & Coun­try Nis­san-Pon­tiac at Joppa and Be­lair roads, his sis­ter said. He also had Town & Coun­try Pon­tiac-Oldsmo­bile-Cadil­lac in Hanover, Penn­syl­va­nia, and Town & Coun­try Chevro­let in Street.

In an era of lo­cal pitch­men, Mr. Sam­mis was ev­ery bit an equal to Jack Luskin’s “Cheap­est Guy in Town” or Alan Elkin, founder of Ad­vance Busi­ness Sys­tems, whose “We live and breathe this stuff” had be­come a main­stay with TV view­ers.

Mr. Sam­mis ap­peared in TV and print ads be­gin­ning in the1970s as “Mr. No­body,” who in­toned to view­ers, “If it’s not a Town & Coun­try deal, it’s not your best deal” or “No one sells for less.”

“His slogan and a catchy tune sold cars,” his sis­ter said. “He wore a pin on his lapel that said “No­body is Per­fect,’ and that’s how he came up with ‘Mr. No­body.’ ”

Draw­ing on his friend­ships with such sports leg­ends as Mr. Palmer and Johnny Uni­tas, he in­cor­po­rated them into Town & Coun­try ads.

“He’d say to Palmer, ‘Do you know why you’re in this ad, Jim, be­cause it’s base­ball sea­son,’ or he’d ask Uni­tas, ‘Do you know why you’re in this ad, Johnny, be­cause it’s foot­ball sea­son,’ ” Mr. Zei­den said. “It was mar­velous and worked very well.”

“It seems like we did those ads for­ever,” Mr. Palmer, a Bal­ti­more resident, said. “One time, he had me in a sleep­ing bag in the back of a $3,900 Dat­sun truck, and af­ter it aired, he sold 29 of them in one week­end.”

Mr. Palmer said his friend had a hi­lar­i­ous side.

“It was back when I was do­ing the Jockey un­der­wear ads and Richard came in one day wear­ing noth­ing but a pair of boxer shorts,” he said with a laugh.

By 2000, Mr. Sam­mis had closed his deal­er­ships, and his last busi­ness, Ti­mo­nium Auto Bro­kers, which he opened in 2001, was shut­tered in 2003.

Mr. Sam­mis then turned a life­long hobby into a busi­ness.

“He be­gan col­lect­ing trains as a small boy and at Christ­mas­time built a big lay­out in our base­ment,” Mrs. Bynion said.

In 2004, Mr. Sam­mis opened a shop in the York­towne Plaza and then moved to a ware­house space off Pado­nia Road, where he sold vin­tage model trains and toys. He later re­lo­cated the busi­ness to the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch Mar­ket on York Road in Cock­eysville.

“He was pleas­ant and friendly to talk to at the Dutch Mar­ket. Peo­ple liked to talk with him and he never seemed alone at the mar­ket,” said James A. Gen­th­ner, a model train col­lec­tor, who lives in Ti­mo­nium.

“I wished he had more time to talk with me, but, of course he was sell­ing col­lectibles and time is money,” Mr. Gen­th­ner said. “He some­times took a ta­ble at the Green­berg Train Shows in Ti­mo­nium and used to go to the York [Penn­syl­va­nia] show to sell col­lectibles. He liked G gauge trains, those large trains from Europe, rather than Lionel or Amer­i­can Flyer.”

When his daugh­ter Diane Sam­mis, who was 27, died of leukemia in 1993, Mr. Sam­mis turned his grief into some­thing pos­i­tive.

For 17 years, he ran Ruth’s Chris Siz­zling Golf and Ten­nis Tour­na­ments, which raised more than $3.5 mil­lion for the Mary­land chap­ter of the Leukemia and Lym­phoma So­ci­ety, in honor of his late daugh­ter.

He was an avid sports fan and a mem­ber of the Chest­nut Ridge Coun­try Club, where he was a mem­ber of its board and en­joyed play­ing golf. He was also a mem­ber of the Train Col­lec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion.

When Mr. Palmer was in­ducted into the Base­ball Hall of Fame in 1990, Mr. Sam­mis drove to Coop­er­stown, New York, to par­tic­i­pate in his in­duc­tion.

“Hey, the guy’s my pal,” Mr. Sam­mis told The Sun in 1990. “I was over the house the other day, call­ing him ‘Palmer Head’ and all th­ese crazy things. I’m re­ally charged.”

Said Mr. Palmer: “He loved sports and we golfed and went to the Hall of Fame to­gether. You’re lucky if you have five re­ally close friends in life, and Richard was one of mine. He was such a great friend.”

A memo­rial ser­vice for Mr. Sam­mis will be held at noon Fri­day at Peace­ful Al­ter­na­tives and Cre­ma­tion Cen­ter at 2325 York Road in Ti­mo­nium.

In ad­di­tion to his sis­ter, Mr. Sam­mis is sur­vived by two other daugh­ters, DawnFink of Owings Mills and Deb­bie Hig­gins of Ti­mo­nium; a brother, Jack Sam­mis of Wash­ing­ton; another sis­ter, Elaine Knapp of Ti­mo­nium; and two grand­chil­dren. His mar­riage to the for­mer Dorothy Marie Nor­man ended in divorce.

Richard M. “Dick” Sam­mis, who served in the Navy, owned auto deal­er­ships from the mid-1970s un­til 2000, then sold vin­tage model trains and toys.

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