Richard M. “Dick” Sammis, the jocular Baltimore auto dealer who was the man behind the “Mr. Nobody” advertising campaign that kept customers entertained for years, died Sept. 4 of complications from a heart attack at Stella Maris Hospice. The Lutherville resident was 79.
“Richard was old-school and a working class guy who just worked harder,” former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer said. “He was a man of the people and a great salesman. He’d tell you what he was going to do, and then he’d do it. He just didn’t roll up in a limousine, step out, and start snapping fingers at people. He was just a genuine guy.”
Said Howard Zeiden of Pikesville, owner of Zeiden Consulting Enterprises: “Outgoing doesn’t begin to describe Dick. He was a lot of fun, ran a good dealership, and was a good businessman. I came to Baltimore in 1981 as national sales manager for WMAR-TV, and that’s when I got to know him, and we’ve been friends for nearly 40 years. He was one of our larger customers and a good client.”
Richard Marshall Sammis, the son of William Henry “Bill” Sammis, manager of Govans Chevrolet, and his wife, Evelyn Turner Sammis, a beautician, was born in Baltimore and raised on Beaumont Avenue in Govans.
After graduating in 1959 from Polytechnic Institute, he enlisted in the Navy and served aboard the destroyer USS Willard Keith as a signalman. He was discharged with the rank of third mate in 1961.
“Richard grew up in the car business,” said a sister, Marsha Bynion, a Timonium resident. “In the 1960s, he opened up Sammis Motors, a repair shop, in Towson.”
Mr. Sammis later owned Gulf and Texaco filling stations on York Road and in 1974 purchased with his father Timonium Auto Sales. The next year, he established Town & Country Nissan in Perry Hall, which he sold to CarMax in 1999.
He later added a Town & Country Datsun-AMC-Jeep on Harford Road, and his largest dealership was Town & Country Nissan-Pontiac at Joppa and Belair roads, his sister said. He also had Town & Country Pontiac-Oldsmobile-Cadillac in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and Town & Country Chevrolet in Street.
In an era of local pitchmen, Mr. Sammis was every bit an equal to Jack Luskin’s “Cheapest Guy in Town” or Alan Elkin, founder of Advance Business Systems, whose “We live and breathe this stuff” had become a mainstay with TV viewers.
Mr. Sammis appeared in TV and print ads beginning in the 1970s as “Mr. Nobody,” who intoned to viewers, “If it’s not a Town & Country deal, it’s not your best deal” or “No one sells for less.”
“His slogan and a catchy tune sold cars,” his sister said. “He wore a pin on his lapel that said “Nobody is Perfect,' and that’s how he came up with ‘Mr. Nobody.’ ”
Drawing on his friendships with such sports legends as Mr. Palmer and Johnny Unitas, he incorporated them into Town & Country ads.
“He’d say to Palmer, ‘Do you know why you’re in this ad, Jim, because it’s baseball season,’ or he’d ask Unitas, ‘Do you know why you’re in this ad, Johnny, because it’s football season,' ” Mr. Zeiden said. “It was marvelous and worked very well.”
“It seems like we did those ads forever,” Mr. Palmer, a Baltimore resident, said. "One time, he had me in a sleeping bag in the back of a $3,900 Datsun truck, and after it aired, he sold 29 of them in one weekend."
Mr. Palmer said his friend had a hilarious side.
“It was back when I was doing the Jockey underwear ads and Richard came in one day wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts,” he said with a laugh.
By 2000, Mr. Sammis had closed his dealerships, and his last business, Timonium Auto Brokers, which he opened in 2001, was shuttered in 2003.
Mr. Sammis then turned a lifelong hobby into a business.
“He began collecting trains as a small boy and at Christmastime built a big layout in our basement,” Mrs. Bynion said.
In 2004, Mr. Sammis opened a shop in the Yorktowne Plaza and then moved to a warehouse space off Padonia Road, where he sold vintage model trains and toys. He later relocated the business to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market on York Road in Cockeysville.
“He was pleasant and friendly to talk to at the Dutch Market. People liked to talk with him and he never seemed alone at the market,” said James A. Genthner, a model train collector, who lives in Timonium.
“I wished he had more time to talk with me, but, of course he was selling collectibles and time is money,” Mr. Genthner said. “He sometimes took a table at the Greenberg Train Shows in Timonium and used to go to the York [Pennsylvania] show to sell collectibles. He liked G gauge trains, those large trains from Europe, rather than Lionel or American Flyer."
When his daughter Diane Sammis, who was 27, died of leukemia in 1993, Mr. Sammis turned his grief into something positive.
For 17 years, he ran Ruth’s Chris Sizzling Golf and Tennis Tournaments, which raised more than $3.5 million for the Maryland chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in honor of his late daughter.
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He was an avid sports fan and a member of the Chestnut Ridge Country Club, where he was a member of its board and enjoyed playing golf. He was also a member of the Train Collectors Association.
When Mr. Palmer was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, Mr. Sammis drove to Cooperstown, New York, to participate in his induction.
“Hey, the guy’s my pal,” Mr. Sammis told The Sun in 1990. “I was over the house the other day, calling him ‘Palmer Head’ and all these crazy things. I’m really charged.”
Said Mr. Palmer: “He loved sports and we golfed and went to the Hall of Fame together. You’re lucky if you have five really close friends in life, and Richard was one of mine. He was such a great friend."
A memorial service for Mr. Sammis will be held at noon Friday at Peaceful Alternatives and Cremation Center at 2325 York Road in Timonium.
In addition to his sister, Mr. Sammis is survived by two other daughters, Dawn Fink of Owings Mills and Debbie Higgins of Timonium; a brother, Jack Sammis of Washington; another sister, Elaine Knapp of Timonium; and two grandchildren. His marriage to the former Dorothy Marie Norman ended in divorce.