Lawrence G. Weathers Jr., 80, a lifelong Dodge dealer who was the subject of an Inquirer series and video documentary about how he lost his Delaware County automobile franchise in the government-led bankruptcy of Chrysler Corp., died Friday, Jan. 6, at his Upper Providence Township home.
Mr. Weathers was found to have metastatic melanoma in the months after he and his family lost the dealership his father had opened as a repair shop in 1922 at Baltimore Pike and Route 452 in Lima.
Though still heartbroken by the bankruptcy order that put him and 788 other Chrysler dealers out of business during 26 anguished days in May and June 2009, Mr. Weathers had been upbeat through his 21-month illness, outliving even the most optimistic prognosis by physicians.
"He was a fighter," said his wife, Helene, who helped care for Mr. Weathers at home until his death.
"He never complained once. Never complained," said his daughter Dolores Rose Weathers, who said goodbye to her father on the eve of her 23d birthday.
"He was so stubborn," she said. "He didn't even want to get into a wheelchair. He didn't want to show anyone that he was weak. He wasn't giving up at all."
Mr. Weathers ran Weathers Dodge for most of his life. He was born the very year, 1931, that his father entered into a franchise agreement with Chrysler to sell Dodge vehicles at the site of an old barn.
He attended Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, St. James High School, and Villanova University, and spent 31/2 years on active duty in the Navy before joining his father; his uncle, A.J. Weathers, and his cousin, J. Richard Weathers, in the family business in late 1955.
For decades, the family had remained in good standing with Chrysler. But when the financial crisis struck in 2008, Chrysler and General Motors Corp. were in dire straits and implored President George W. Bush for emergency aid.
Fearing the potential collapse of a key part of the nation's industrial economy, Bush authorized emergency loans. Several months later, the Obama administration helped usher Chrysler and GM through Chapter 11 reorganizations. Among the conditions laid out for Chrysler: A quarter of all franchise agreements would be eliminated.
For Mr. Weathers, who had spent decades devoted to the business that he called, simply, "the garage," the impact was devastating.
It remained in his thoughts even after his son Lawrence III converted the dealership to a pre-owned vehicle sales and repair business known as Weathers Motors. The garage also was on his mind in the cloudy utterances of his final days.
Mr. Weathers would be heard talking about how "he's got to get in his car and go to the garage and get a part for a car. Everything was about the garage," his wife said.
In a spartan obituary he wrote himself, his love for his small corner of Delaware County came through in the very first sentence:
"Lawrence G. Weathers Jr., a lifelong resident of Lima, died of complications of metastatic melanoma."
It was a fitting self-portrait by a man who was defined by convictions valuing truth and simplicity above all else.
"He was a hard worker, very unassuming. He could have driven any brand-new car in the lot, and he chose to drive the oldest, rustiest truck he could find," Helene Weathers said. "That was the type of person he was. He was a down-to-earth, simple man."
After the three-part Inquirer series was published in November 2010, Mr. Weathers heard from dealers nationwide who likewise had been banished from the business.
According to his wife, Mr. Weathers drew strength from what he heard from those who, like him, felt betrayed by a corporation to which they had been loyal for years: "People said, 'If you put my name instead of Weathers Dodge in there, that's my story, too.' "
His oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Lynn Schuchter, a leading melanoma researcher, said Mr. Weathers lived longer than anticipated, perhaps because of experimental treatments.
"I just found him to be an unbelievably sweet man," said Schuchter, who visited him around Thanksgiving. "There was a sweetness about him that you just don't see."
In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. Weathers is survived by another daughter, Kathryn; sons Steven and Christopher; his former wife, Edith Weathers; and 12 grandchildren.
Friends may call from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, at Rigby, Harting & Hagan Funeral Home, 15 E. Fourth St., Media, or from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at St. Mary Magdalen Church, 2400 N. Providence Rd., Media. A memorial Mass will follow.
Memorial donations may be made to St. James Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, 1499 E. Ninth St., Eddystone, Pa. 19022, or Drexel Neumann Academy, 1901 Potter St., Chester, Pa. 19013.
A three-part Inquirer series in 2010 explored how a third-generation auto business run by Lawrence G. Weathers Jr. reinvented itself. Go to www.philly.com/weathersEndText