Ronald Anthony Gregory Sr., the founder of an automobile body and painting business and a Korean War veteran, died of pneumonia April 14 at the Gilchrist Towson Center. The Cockeysville resident was 88.
Born in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, and raised on Drew Street in Baltimore’s Bayview area, he was the son of Victor C. and Dena Gregory, a Bethlehem Steel worker and a homemaker, respectively. Ronald attended Baltimore City College.
During his high school summers, he learned masonry from his uncle, Gino Miller, and grandfather Tony Miller, who were master stone craftsmen. For a brief period, Mr. Gregory would later become a Bethlehem Steel bricklayer. But as a child, he was fascinated by automobiles.
While in high school school, he met his future wife, Elaine M. Ulrich, at a Highlandtown neighborhood drugstore. He asked for a date — and later told family members he did not know what her hair color was because she wore a tight scarf. He was thrilled when he found she was a blonde.
At 19, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea.
“He told his family it was a long boat ride, and he was seasick the whole way,” said his daughter Gina Gregory. “And while in Korea, he found himself separated from his home infantry company. He reported this to a commanding officer who asked, ‘Well, what can you do?’”
“My dad said, ‘I know how to repair and paint cars.’ The officer told him to head over to the motor pool. He could not have been happier,” his daughter said. “He actually painted a Jeep for a captain, and one of the generals liked it so much he confiscated it for himself.”
While on leave from the Army in 1953, he married at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church near Patterson Park.
As a civilian, he returned to his auto work.
“His love of automobiles, hot rods, custom cars and classics began when he was a young boy,” his daughter said. “He would sneak a peek into a local body shop and watch them work. His interest grew through his teen years into adulthood. He was a natural talent and taught himself how to paint cars and do mechanical work.”
Mr. Gregory rented a small backyard garage from an older couple in Hamilton. He eventually gave up his bricklaying job at Bethlehem Steel and opened his first body and paint shop. He later enlarged the business and operated in Towson, Joppa and Cockeysville. The business prospered by word-of-mouth.
“He was one heck of a talent and was one of the best body and paint guys in the business,” his daughter said. “He customized many a first-class car. My dad had a reputation for his skill, talent and a strong work ethic.”
She said that when he ran into his past customers, if he couldn’t remember their names, he always remembered the car. In his spare time, he restored a 1936 Ford Roadster and received a first-place award for the best paint in show from a friend George Barris, a designer and builder of custom cars who was based in Hollywood, California.
At 73, Mr. Gregory wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. He took the safety class, got his license and bought a purple Harley-Davidson Sportster.
“He went right into the country on that bike — Pennsylvania or down into Delaware,” said his daughter Carol Anne Frantz.
Mr. Gregory loved working with his hands and in 1980 bought a historic Cockeysville home on Sherwood Road.
The Morning Sun
“He took a plain house with a small front porch and made it into a beautiful Victorian,” his daughter Gina Gregory said. “He knocked down the porch and rebuilt it, added a gazebo and wraparound porch with a tongue-and-groove ceiling. He made the spokes and all the gingerbread around the windows and eaves.”
He liked to attend auctions and pick up treasures. He was a regular at the Richard Opfer sales in Lutherville and visited flea markets in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He collected glassware, crystal, brass, and porcelain statues and figurines.
“He built many of the chandeliers and lamps in that house. He would take light fixtures apart and create something different. He also worked with stained glass, loved shopping for antiques, going to flea markets or dumpster-diving with his neighbors on Saturday mornings,” his daughter Gina said. “He’s the only man I knew who took junk to the dump but came back home with more stuff than what he’d dropped off.”
“He loved long Sunday drives, taking pictures of cows and old barns, and talked about building a barn into a house,” his daughter Gina said. “He was a simple man, a humble man, a man of great integrity and honesty.”
His wife of 61 years, Elaine, a homemaker, died in 2015.
Survivors include two sons, Ronald A. Gregory Jr. of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Mark Gregory of Timonium; two daughters, Carol Anne Frantz of Phoenix in Baltimore County and Gina Gregory of Nottingham; a brother, Chuck Gregory of Brooklyn, New York; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. May 7 at the Church of the Holy Comforter on Seminary and Bellona avenues in Lutherville.