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Charles R. Kimmel, who helped grow Kimmel Automotive into a tire retailer and repair giant, dies at 93

Charles R. Kimmel was an enthusiastic world traveler.
Charles R. Kimmel was an enthusiastic world traveler. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Shortly after graduating from what was then known as Loyola College in 1948, Charles R. Kimmel had designs of pursuing a career as a news journalist. His father, Charles E. Kimmel, the founder of Kimmel Automotive, had another idea.

“He wanted to become a journalist, but because of the family business, he was instantly recruited to work in the family business,” said his son, Tom Kimmel. “I think the plan was that he wanted to work there temporarily, and he ended up being there permanently. You know how that is.”

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If Mr. Kimmel was disappointed by his father’s intervention, he soon realized the wisdom of that move.

“He said he could have gone to work for the Associated Press in Cumberland for $35 a week,” his son said. “But he said, ‘I thought I could do better here at home.’ ”

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Mr. Kimmel, who succeeded his father as chairman of the Baltimore-based tire and auto company and helped the retailer open as many as 45 locations in Maryland, Virginia and other Mid-Atlantic states over 53 years, died Aug. 6 at his home in Vero Beach, Florida, of metastatic melanoma. He was 93.

Mr. Kimmel was the eldest of four children born in Baltimore to Mr. Kimmel and the former Mildred J. Russell. He grew up in a house in the Oakenshawe neighborhood near the Johns Hopkins University. A longtime fan of the Orioles who watched the team play at Oriole Park before the franchise switched to Memorial Stadium, Mr. Kimmel graduated from Loyola Blakefield High School in 1945 and then Loyola College with a bachelor’s degree in English.

Mr. Kimmel began his career at his father’s company — established as the Kimmel Tire Co. in 1938 on Mount Royal Avenue — in 1949 selling tires. He stayed in sales until 1957, when he was promoted to sales manager.

Four years later, he became the company’s general manager and remained in that position until 1994, when he became the chairman.

The younger Mr. Kimmel said his father did not share much about his work life with his wife, the former Katherine Oaster, whom he married May 3, 1952, in Baltimore, or his three children.

“When it came to work, Dad kind of lived his job, and he didn’t bring it home,” he said from his home in Baltimore. “So all I know is that we were provided for, but we didn’t hear any stories about Dad’s employment.”

Mr. Kimmel said he remembered his father working long hours and weekends, which meant he wasn’t home much. But he always took off on Sundays to take the family to church.

“As a child growing up, we made the best of it with him not being home,” he said. “We understood that he was running the business.”

Mr. Kimmel said his father sold the company to Monro Muffler Brake in 2002 because no one else from the family wanted to, as he called it, “carry the torch.” Mr. Kimmel said his father was proud of what Kimmel Automotive had become.

“I think he saw it as a tremendous accomplishment, that he was able to continue the family business and keep the business alive in Baltimore and provide tire and automotive service, which was a very competitive market,” he said. “He seemed to thrive at the opportunity. But I can’t say that it was something that he liked to talk about. I think if we brought it up or asked questions, he would answer them, but it’s not something he would bring up. He didn’t toot his own horn very often. He kept out of the limelight.”

In 1990, Mrs. Kimmel died of breast cancer, which saddened her husband greatly, their son said.

“It was pretty devastating because that was his best friend,” he said. “She was somebody that he really enjoyed having companionship with. He was kind of out of his element once she passed.”

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Mr. Kimmel always had a great interest in traveling, visiting more than 100 countries and all seven continents.

“He would send us cards saying, ‘I’m in Phuket today,’ or ‘I’ll be in Ireland tomorrow,’ or ‘I’m going to Germany,’ ” his son said. “He was all over the globe.”

During one trip in China, Mr. Kimmel met a widow, Virginia de Ganahl Russell. The two married in 1998 in Brandon, Vermont, and moved to Vero Beach in 2003.

“That changed my dad’s life quite a bit,” his son said. “She had a tremendous interest in literature and history and science and poetry and people — all the same things he really enjoyed. So that kind of met his match in terms of being able to converse on those kinds of issues. It ended up really enriching his life.”

The new couple continued to travel extensively, and Mr. Kimmel later said some of his favorite destinations were Antarctica, Bora Bora, Cape Town, South Africa, the Seychelles, France, Singapore and Switzerland.

Antoinette Bittner was hired by Mr. and Mrs. Kimmel in 2013 to provide care. Mrs. Bittner described Mr. Kimmel as “the grandfather that I never had.”

“When we first met, he was kind of stoic and very hard to reach,” she said. “But as I got to know him — and I worked night shifts, so I got to spend many nights with him — he’d give me good advice. He was very smart about stocks and how to save money. He gave me sound advice on that. Both of my grandfathers died when I was little. So I got very fond of him.”

Another caregiver, Shamira Ross, said Mr. Kimmel enjoyed listening to classical music while drinking a wine cocktail and monitoring the stock market in the newspapers and on television. But his wife’s death in 2018 was another personal setback.

“When he was around other people, he’d take a serious matter and make it a joke,” Ms. Ross said. “But when he was by himself, you could tell that he was sad. One time, I heard him crying a couple days after she had passed. So I asked if he was OK, and he made a joke out of it.”

Both Mrs. Bittner and Ms. Ross said Mr. Kimmel enjoyed spooning out vanilla bean ice cream from Häagen-Dazs pint-size containers and ate so many Hershey’s dark chocolate candy bars that they had to hide them from him.

Mrs. Bittner said she occasionally asked Mr. Kimmel about his career in Baltimore, but he did not elaborate much.

“He was never one to really boast about himself,” she said. “He boasted about everybody else — his children, his wife, his grandchildren.”

A funeral for Mr. Kimmel was held Aug. 14 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. He was buried at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.

In addition to his son, Mr. Kimmel is survived by one daughter, Mary Carol Pontone of Red Bank, New Jersey; another son, Charles R. Kimmel II of Vero Beach; and six grandchildren.

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