As I was catching up on the news of the day this morning, I was sad to hear that one of my first bosses, Jack McCarthy, passed away at the young age of 79. Jack was the CEO of McCarthy Tire and Auto Service headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, PA with 43 locations in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.
I was 15, a freshman in high school and earning $3.15 an hour pumping gas at McCarthy’s Kingston store for two hours a day. I’d ride my bike home from school, change out of the military-like Catholic school uniform we were forced to wear and hop back on and head to work.
Those two hours a day were great in the summer.
In the winter they sucked.
In the rain I cursed him because he would never put an overhead above the gas pumps. I just got a new rubber rain suit every few months.
While Jack’s office was across the river in the Wilkes-Barre store, he made several trips over every week. Each time he would walk through the garage to shake hands with his employees and venture out to the gas pumps where in between checking oil and filling tires with air, he would shake my hand and give me a gold-plated silver dollar.
That was his trademark.
Every Saturday he’d be over to wash his car. Himself. He wouldn’t use the automatic wash, but popped quarters into the self-service bay and soap up and rinse off his big, black Lincoln then pull around front and dry it off. Himself.
When I graduated high school and started college, I continued to work at McCarthy’s. Still pumping gas and working inside the office until I graduated. I then started working full-time as a sales rep splitting my time between the Kingston and Wilkes-Barre store.
I always hated working in Wilkes-Barre, because the counter was on the opposite side of the room from where Jack had his office and he heard everything that went on. If you said something you shouldn’t have said to a customer, the phone would ring and it would be Jack. If a customer had a complaint, you’d see him come out of his office and over to the counter to see what was going on.
I swear he had the place bugged.
He was a stickler for customer service. Perhaps that’s where I learned that the customer always comes first no matter what. One instance comes to mind. It was one of those cold, windy, rainy days and a prominent Luzerne County judge (one that didn’t end up going to jail) made is bi-weekly visit for a fill-up. Each time he came in, he always asked for his tire pressure to be checked and would hand me a quarter as a tip.
This particular day I was cold, wet and miserable. I did as I was asked and was given the quarter in return. Only this time, I handed it back to him and said, “Judge, keep it. I think you need it more than I do.”
It wasn’t long after that I heard from Jack.
I never got another tip from the judge either.
After I left McCarthy Tire I only saw Jack on Saturday nights having dinner at Andy Perugino’s in Luzerne with his wife CeCe and his friends the Reillys. I always got a big hello and a handshake. It’s been a while since I last saw him. I heard he retired several years ago and continued to make visits to his stores to check in and say hello despite some health challenges.
The McCarthy family may have provided me with my first job, but for many in Northeast Pennsylvania they provided much more. From his commitment to running a first-class business to his involvement in the healthcare community, he leaves behind a legacy of service to various boards and organizations.
Thanks for giving me a shot back in 1986, Jack and for instilling values I learned while working for you in the companies I went on to create.