Betty L. Waghelstein, the former owner and president of Luby Chevrolet and Luby Honda, whose East Baltimore Art Deco showroom was a landmark for decades, died Nov. 26 at Roland Park Place of complications from a broken hip. She was 89.
"Betty was a very lovely and smart lady," said Jeffrey A. Legum, a longtime friend and former president of Park Circle Motor Co. "She was the first female car dealer in Baltimore, and Luby Chevrolet and Luby Honda were wonderful dealerships."
The daughter of Sam Luby Sr., founder of Luby Chevrolet, and May Luby, a homemaker, the former Betty Arlene Luby was born in Denver and raised in Miami, where she graduated in 1942 from Miami Senior High School.
Her father established Luby Chevrolet dealerships in New York City, Miami, Boston and Larchmont, N.Y.
She came to Baltimore in 1942 when she enrolled at Goucher College and earned a bachelor's degree in 1946. While at Goucher, she met Dr. Frank S. Cole. Just before he went overseas with the Army Medical Corps to Europe, the couple became engaged.
In 1945, a month after his return to Baltimore, the couple wed. They lived on Jonquil Avenue and later moved to a home on Seven Mile Lane in Northwest Baltimore.
In 1950, her husband gave up his medical practice and joined his father-in-law at Luby Chevrolet in Miami. With Mr. Luby's backing, he established the Luby Chevrolet Co. of Baltimore in 1952 on Highland Avenue, and in 1953, became president of the business.
Dr. Cole moved the business in 1954 to the former Baltimore Oldsmobile's 1940s-era showroom at Madison and Monument streets in East Baltimore.
When Dr. Cole died unexpectedly in 1967, his wife took over as president of the business.
"Despite General Motors' reluctance to allow a woman to run a dealership, she became the first GM dealer in a major city in the United States," said a daughter, Shelley Morhaim of Stevenson.
"When my dad died, he had built a good dealership and had good people, and she worked hard to keep them," said her son, Stephen L. Cole of Roland Park, who later was Luby's general manager.
"She was an extremely nice person, but it's a tough business with a lot of tough people who run them, but that was not her," said Mr. Cole. "She cared about her employees' loyalty, and that went in both directions. She also cared and liked all aspects of the business."
"Betty liked people, and they did what she wanted because they liked her. She held people to higher standards and they rose to her level," said Mr. Legum, of Pikesville. "She is proof you can survive in this business and do well."
The "I Love Luby" slogan became ingrained for generations of Baltimore Chevrolet buyers.
"That was a takeoff on 'I Love Lucy,' the popular 1950s and 1960s show," her son said. "Everyone knew the show, and we used the 'I Love Luby' slogan in print advertising."
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Waghelstein added a Honda dealership to the business.
"That was a spectacularly good business decision. Honda wanted to establish a dealership here and she said 'yes' to it when other dealers said 'no,'" her son said.
"We moved the Honda dealership next door into a former Mercury dealership, and from Day One it was a spectacular success," he said. "For the first 12 years, there were not enough cars and we couldn't satisfy the demand for them, which is always good news for the retailer."
A 1992 survey by the Baltimore Business Journal ranked Luby as the area's second-largest woman- or minority-owned business, and Time Magazine recognized Mrs. Waghelstein as a leading businesswoman.
In 1994, Anderson Automotive Group acquired Luby Chevrolet and Luby Honda, and Mrs. Waghelstein retired.
Mrs. Waghelstein had been a member of the Maryland Automotive Dealers Association, where she had served on its board and had been a trustee of the association's Employee Benefit Trust.
She also held leadership positions on the boards of Goodwill Industries, Central Scholarship Fund, and Hutzler's department store.
As chair of the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital, she played a key role in its merger with Sinai Hospital, and the forming of LifeBridge Healthcare.
"Everyone wanted Betty on their board," Mr. Legum said.
She was a member of Beth El Congregation.
In 1969, she married Dr. Julius M. Waghelstein, former chief of medicine at Franklin Square Hospital, who died in 1981.
A private memorial gathering for Mrs. Waghelstein is planned for Dec. 28.
In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Waghelstein is survived by another daughter, Nancy C. Abrams of Ruxton; a brother, Chester Luby of New York City; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.