William Henry Sammis, an auto agency service manager who spent nearly 75 years in the business, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 89 and lived in Towson.
He retired a little more than a year ago as service director of the former Town and Country Pontiac Nissan Suzuki in Perry Hall. He habitually wore a white shirt and tie and often smoked a pipe while examining engines.
"He was a fine guy who had a lot of empathy for his customers," said Jerry Stautberg, owner of Jerry's Chevrolet on East Joppa Road. "They would come great distance to see him and have him service their cars."
"In all those years, my father never took a vacation. He was not afraid of work," said his son, Richard M. Sammis of Lutherville. "He was like a doctor of automotive problems. He was an excellent diagnostic technician.
"He attributed his knowledge of cars to his years in the business -- when he started working on motors, they were simple machines."
Born in Omaha, Neb., Mr. Sammis moved to Baltimore as a child. He was raised on Winston Avenue and attended Waverly Elementary School. In 1926, when he was 14, his father died, and he got a job cleaning up and sweeping floors at Govans Chevrolet to help support his family.
By 18, he had become an automobile and truck mechanic, and later was promoted to service director of the agency. He remained at the York Road dealership until 1957, when it changed hands.
He then joined his brother Everett at Sammis Sales and Service in the 1000 block of York Road in Towson, and later ran the service departments of family-owned Gulf and Texaco gas stations, also on York Road.
He and his son bought Timonium Auto Sales in 1974 and, a year later, Town and Country Datsun on Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore. In 1981, he took over the service director post at what became Town and Country Pontiac Nissan Suzuki in Perry Hall. He stepped down in November 2000.
As a teen-ager, Mr. Sammis followed news accounts of Charles Lindbergh, who flew the Atlantic Ocean solo in 1927. He stood on a box to see the aviator during an appearance at Harbor Field Airport in Dundalk. In later years, he filled a room in his home with Lindbergh memorabilia, including books, pictures, scale models and newspaper articles. He also visited Lindbergh's grave on Maui, Hawaii.
In 1952, Mr. Sammis bought a year-old green Chevrolet convertible with 25,000 miles. He kept it in his garage and put 4,000 miles on it over nearly 50 years.
He preferred to spend his evenings listening to the radio. In summer, he took the radio to the front porch and greeted neighbors.
In 1934, he married Evelyn Turner. She died in 1961.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Lemmon Funeral Home, 10 W. Padonia Road, Timonium.
Mr. Sammis is survived by another son, Jack C. Sammis of Arlington, Va.; two daughters, Elaine Evelyn Knapp of Lutherville and Marsha G. Bynion of Perry Hall; a brother, Everett Sammis of Pompano Beach, Fla.; a sister, Ruth Agnes Sammis of Towson; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.