Harold Guckes Jr., 94, a car-dealership owner and sailor, died Friday, June 4, from heart failure at Woodbridge Place, an assisted living community in Phoenixville.
Born in West Philadelphia and raised in Bala Cynwyd, Mr. Guskes was the only child of Harold Guckes Sr. and Anne Hall Guckes. He graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1944.
But Mr. Guckes was not destined to stick to his inland roots. A lifelong lover of water and boating, not to mention music and four-legged companions, he was a man who made his own luck — and lived life his way.
“Carpe diem — seize the day. That would pretty much sum it up,” his daughter Wendy Brown said of her father’s view of life. “Each day was an adventure. ‘Do the best you can each day.’ His dad died at 59. Obviously, he lived a little longer at 94, so I think his outlook worked.”
After graduating from high school, Mr. Guckes joined the Navy and served in communications intelligence from 1944 to 1946, primarily in Recife, Brazil, tracking German submarines.
He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, earning a bachelor’s degree in business in three years and playing on the varsity tennis team.
Mr. Guckes then spent 37 years in the automobile business, partnering with Bernard Van Wyk starting in 1953 at Van Wyk Oldsmobile in Media. He started as a salesman and ended up as sole owner of the business after Van Wyk’s death.
He was the kind of person who saw an opportunity and grabbed it, said his daughter.
“He was self-taught at everything,” she said. “He didn’t take music lessons; he just learned by ear. He didn’t take sailing lessons; he just learned to sail on his own.”
The water and sailing were among his great passions, but he was fond of all boats. He especially enjoyed sailing and racing on the Chesapeake Bay.
He excelled at racquet sports. He loved music; he played piano and guitar, and he claimed to know the lyrics of 2,000 songs.
“He said music wasn’t worth a darn if it was published after the 1950s,” said Brown. “He liked the oldies. Wartime Big Band, Tommy Dorsey. He sort of liked the Beatles, but they were a little too rock-and-roll for him.”
Before moving to Chester County to be near his daughters later in his life, he had lived in St. Michaels, Md., and Bonita Beach, Fla.
He belonged to many clubs over the years, including the Cynwyd Club, the Merion Cricket Club, and Corinthian Yacht Club.
He had an easy charm that won him friends, two-legged and four.
“He was very witty — wonderful one-liners, but not at anyone’s expense,” said his daughter. “He always had his nurses laughing. And he just adored dogs. He always had a dog by his side. Anything that needed a home.”
Mr. Guckes is also survived by his other daughters Anne L. Ottley, Kathleen S. Goemans, and Marjorie V. Basta, as well as their mother and his first wife, Nancy Sparks Guckes. He is also survived by five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and five stepchildren. His second wife, Phebe Lukens Guckes, died in 2015.
Mr. Guckes’ final wish was for his ashes to be sprinkled in the Gulf of Florida and the Chesapeake Bay, preferably leeward. His daughters intend to do that.
Donations in his memory may be made to Senior Dog Haven and Hospice, P.O. Box 1441, Wilmington, Del., 19899 or online at seniordoghaven.org.