Donald S. Beyer, Sr., the patriarch of the storied Beyer family dynasty in Falls Church, died last Saturday two weeks before his 94th birthday, according to reports from his two sons, U.S. Congressman Donald S. Beyer Jr. and chief of the family business, Beyer Automotive, Michael Beyer, and daughter Weetie Hill.
“The patriarch of a dynasty has departed this temporal life,” came the announcement from the family this week. “Donald S. Beyer, Sr. joined his previously departed wife, Nancy, and daughter, Kathy, in eternal glory on December 23, 2017. On January 6, we will celebrate his incredible life. It would have been his 94th birthday.”
Don was born in 1924 to Clara and Otto Beyer. He grew up on Spring Hill farm in McLean and was dubbed “Donald the Good” in comparison to his two wild brothers. He earned many nicknames over the years due to his colorful personality. Don graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1946, served in the Korean war and went on to make the military his first career.
In 1948 Don married Nancy and together they bore six children, Congressman Beyer, Kathy Beyer, Sherry S. Beyer, Weetie Hill, Dr. Sandy MacArthur, and Mike S. Beyer. Their spouses include Don Jr.’s Megan, Weetie’s Wayne and Mike’s June. He leaves 15 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and his companion of the last seven years, Betty Knight.
In 1973 Don Beyer Sr. created Don Beyer Motors. He and his sons grew that one dealership in the City of Falls Church City into nine dealerships that employ over 350 people. His legacy continues as his children and many of his grandchildren work and live in the City of Falls Church.
The Beyers have been part of this community for 44 years. The family statement said, “Don Sr. will be dearly missed and yet, greatly celebrated for the man he was: a man of integrity, humor, warmth, generosity and wisdom. Rest in peace ‘Big Guy’!”
Last May, the patriarch attended a reunion in Oxford, Maryland, that included 39 members of his family, all related to him by blood or marriage.
In a eulogy submitted to the News-Press, Congressman Beyer contributed the following: “America lost one of her greatest characters: Don ‘Buck’ Beyer, Army colonel, automobile dealer, race car driver, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and role model to the whole damned world.
“Born to two New Deal leaders and intellectuals, Don was pulled to speed and the smell of gasoline from childhood. He fixed his mother’s broken down Ford on the side of Old Dominion Drive at the age of six. At 12, he built his first car from parts at the junkyard near the family’s Spring Hill Farm in McLean. After Sidwell Friends, The George School, and Western High School, Buck managed West Point graduation and commission despite many undocumented days away racing in the nascent NASCAR.
“Malaria sent him home from Korea, and a malaria relapse hospitalized him on the night of his wedding to Nancy McDonald (he sure looked green at the ceremony). Six months in Walter Reed, with surreptitious weekends off racing, then four years in Trieste, Italy, where Don discovered the military police had all the hot cars. Provost Marshall of Cadets at West Point, Fort Gordon, Provost Marshall in Eniwetok (while testing atomic bombs), Fort Leavenworth, and years around the Pentagon, Buck retired upon getting orders to lead the US Army military police in Vietnam.
“His first owned home was in the Washington Palisades, one bathroom for eight, but a three-car garage, where Don could be found any evening or weekend, repairing the cars of the neighborhood. He was a fitness nut before it was cool, and installed parallel bars in the backyard, and a 20-foot climbing rope. Ascending the rope and a dozen pull-ups were required for permission for a driver’s license. He had wrestled at West Point, and until 90, never lost an arm-wrestling contest. His hands were the size of Frisbees.
“The Colonel joined a local retail auto business, quickly becoming general manager at a Chrysler-Plymouth store on Benning Road, where he devoted great time and attention to the local community.
“In 1973, he established Don Beyer Volvo (intended original name, Pirate Motors, “where your wallet walks the plank,” vetoed by his wife). Someday he hoped to sell one car a day. Forty-four years later, his little family business will sell more than 5,000 cars this year. Don’s business values were uncompromising: integrity, excellence, humor, community, all wrapped in a deep commitment to customer intimacy.
“In the early years, he knew every customer by name (and car), and usually asked if theirs was the car that had fallen off the lift that day. He was a master mechanic, with a savant instinct for what was wrong with an automobile. He perfected Management By Walking Around, and always knew not only what was happening in the dealership, but also in the lives of his co-workers.
“Don Beyer’s 51-year marriage to Nancy was the beauty thing, inseparable and devoted. Buck teased her relentlessly, hitting a high mark when he swore that 98 percent of the prisoners in Leavenworth were Roman Catholics. Nancy taught her children to believe none of his statistics.
“After his ‘retirement’ from the auto business, the Colonel owned a succession of motor homes, each larger than the one before, which his kids took delight in calling ‘campers’ (to his immense annoyance).
“With Nancy as co-pilot, they spent many years traversing North America, from the forests of Northern California to Prince Edward Island to Key West. No one else, like no one, was allowed to drive the various beasts. Buck always towed a Jeep dinghy, perhaps because it had the easiest driveshaft for him to crawl under and disconnect.
“Nancy died in September 1999, too young. Eleven years later, Don discovered Betty Knight, and until his death they spent every loving moment together. His special daughter, Kathy, died in 2015.
“Buck had an aphorism for every occasion, from ‘Heat lost equals heat gained,’ to ‘your first loss is always your best loss,’ to ‘if you can’t make money off your friends and relatives, who can you make money off?’
“Kind, generous, uncomplaining, never mean, and always funny, Don Beyer will be remembered with joy, gratitude, and love by his five living children (Don Jr., Sherry, Weetie, Sandy, and Mike), their spouses, 14 grandchildren, and 13 great grandkids. No one will ever again play the world’s tiniest violin so well.”
June Beyer wrote of Don Sr. on her Facebook page, “He was an amazing man who lived a long life of family fun. We give thanks for the countless celebrations shared. This is what life does best, moments and memories of family and friends.”