The garage door at Tommy Dent’s automotive detailing shop is closed.
The usual scene there, at 26 John Street, included Dent working on cars, talking to passersby with that door open, or planning a social outing at one of the local bars or restaurants in downtown Westminster.
Now, the garage is quiet. People have left flowers, or written heartfelt messages in chalk along the sidewalk at base of the door.
Dent, the longtime owner of Tommy D’s Detail, died June 25 of an apparent heart attack at age 69, according to his obituary. His unexpected death shocked many, particularly those who knew him well.
“He lived an awesome life,” said friend Kevin Wilson, who owns United Used Cars in Westminster.
Dent played three sports at Westminster High School and was co-captain of the football team before he graduated in 1970. He also played basketball and ran track and field.
A Times article from 1974 had Dent as the state’s leading rusher during one of his high school seasons. Dent’s second-half kickoff return for a touchdown against South Carroll in 1969 stood as the Owls’ only points in a 6-0 win.
Dent played semipro football for the Carroll County Chargers for many years after high school, and competed in a local slow-pitch men’s softball league.
Dent was a singer and performer in high school for Westminster music teacher Herb Sell, who put together a concert in 1969 featuring Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
Dent started Tommy D’s Detail in 1985, but he crafted a strong presence in Westminster more than a decade earlier.
“Tommy was the kind of guy, you could leave a million bucks laying on the table, go take a half-hour break and come back, and there’d be a million bucks still laying on the table,” said David Johansson, who employed Dent as a bouncer at his bar below Johansson’s Dining House. “He grew up in a time when it was fun to grow up. He’d always do somebody a favor.”
When Kristy Harrison needed work done on her car, she said Dent never hesitated to make time. Harrison has worked at Rafael’s Restaurant, where Dent was a frequent patron, for 12 years, but said she befriended Dent when she turned 21 and celebrated at Johansson’s Down Under Bar & Grill. Harrison said Dent was the bouncer who kept eyes on her group.
Nine years later, when Harrison turned 30, Dent drove down to Mt. Washington near Baltimore for her birthday party with Harrison’s mom and a few other women in tow. They danced into the night, Harrison said, and she started calling Dent her “dad.”
“He was a great man. He was like a father figure to me,” Harrison said. “He was always positive. No matter what I needed, I could ask him. He was just a great friend, great person. He’s definitely a signature person in here.
“We’re going to miss him. And it’s really hard for us, because we walk to our cars every day and pass Tommy’s shop every day. I just ... I adored him. The sudden thing is the thing that hurts the most.”
Wilson said Dent offered his detailing services to United Used Cars for 35 years, and called him “a fixture” in the community. Wilson remembered a late-1970s Lincoln Continental that sat on the lot at United, which was then run by his grandfather.
“It had doors on it that were longer than my desk. It was huge,” Wilson said. “It was a two-door, and as a kid I thought it was the ugliest color green I had ever seen. I said to my grandfather, ‘Pap Pap, what do you do with that if nobody buys it?' And Pap Pap basically just said ... ‘It will sell, there’s [a butt] for every seat.‘”
A few weeks later, Wilson said he was working at United on a Saturday morning and Dent pulled in ― behind the wheel of the green Continental.
“Sure enough, Tommy bought that car. He had it for a long time,” Wilson said. “So that’s when I learned that there was [a butt] for every seat.”
Wilson said he’ll remember Dent for his trademark grin that greeted anyone he came in contact with, a sentiment shared by many who called him a friend.
A viewing for Dent is set for Thursday, July 2 from 4-8 p.m. at Pritts Funeral Home & Chapel in Westminster, and Friday, July 3 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. before a funeral service begins. Interment takes place at Strawbridge United Methodist Church in New Windsor, where Dent attended services. Social distancing measures, face covering, and a 50% capacity level will be in place at Pritts.
Blaine Brown, a longtime volunteer at Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 who said he got to know Dent from their softball days and for their love of cars, helped choose a casket for his friend ― shiny and black, just like Dent’s prized 1957 Ford.
Brown said he expects a large turnout later this week as people pay their respects.
“A great friend, fun to be around. He enjoyed people stopping in [at work] and talking to him, laughing and joking and carrying on,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a ton of people out there ... it’s going to be a sad day.”