By James Cullum
Dennis Whitestone, the founder of the Automotive Service Garage and Olde Town Auto Body and Paint at 500 N. Fayette St., died of heart failure at Inova Fairfax Hospital on February 9 at the age of 74, surrounded by his family and friends. He spent more than 50 years restoring and fixing cars in Alexandria.
“He was an exceptional person, bigger than life,” Lois Whitestone said of her late husband. “He hung on until the very end. He was very brave. Quite the man.”
Whitestone was born in 1942 in Jacksonville, Fla., and moved to the region in the 1950s. He attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, and studied to become an electrical engineer at George Mason University and the General Motors Institute. But while in school, his father died, forcing him to drop out and support his family as a mechanic at Bradham Auto Electric on North Henry Street. He opened his own shop in 1972, and was an avid fan of the Washington Redskins and stock car racing.
“He was always thinking about the shop or racing. Always,” Lois Whitestone said. “And he was very giving. I was wife number four, and with each wife there were children who he treated like his own.”
Whitestone’s staff is also having a hard time letting go.
“I think he’s watching over us,” Automotive Service Garage general manager Bill Smiley said. “I called him every night for the past 22 years, and now every night I still want to pick up the phone.”
Customers and friends said Automotive Service Garage is renowned for its integrity.
“They always remember my name and try to save me money,” said Bill Reagan, executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. “I remembered one time that my car needed a $3,000 repair, and they found a way to save me $700. That had to come from [Whitestone].”
The ownership of the company now goes to Whitestone’s partner and longtime friend Jeff Yates, who also owns Yates Car Wash and Table Talk in Old Town, among other local businesses.
Master technician Robert Rillon described Whitestone as more of a sibling than a boss.
“He always said we were brothers. I’m sorry, it’s still hard to talk about it,” Rillon said, wiping away tears. “He helped me a lot this past September with my grandson who killed himself. He basically gave me his credit card and said ‘Do what you gotta do,’ and he came down to the house and spent time with me even though his health was bad. “I will honor him and keep his legacy alive by doing the best I can do and making sure the cars are fixed properly that the other guys do their job.”
Whitestone had a chance to say goodbye to family and friends before his passing. “He talked to all of us,” Smiley said. “He knew his time had come, and every employee went there, all of his family members. The nurses at Fairfax Hospital said they had never seen anything like it. And it was truly amazing how many people were at that funeral.
“Dennis — he was basically a big bear, maybe that’s why he was so fascinated by them. He treated us all like family. If you needed something he had he’d give it to you, from $20 to the shirt off his back.”
Dennis Whitestone’s funeral was held at Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home on February 17, and was attended by hundreds of people. He is survived by his wife Lois, his sister Helen Gregory, brother David, son Dennis A. Whitestone, daughters Theresa Vines and Lisa Muenster, his grandchildren and nieces and nephews. The family asked that all remembrances be directed to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Salesian Mission or the American Heart Association.