Paul Light Sr., 79: Friends say integrity marked life of car dealer

Anyone who knew Paul Light knew he was a “consummate businessman” who loved the business of selling cars and set a high standard for car salesmen. “Paul had more integrity than any automobile dealer that I’ve ever met,” his friend Gary Bland said. “Paul was right down the line.”

Paul Light Sr. died Feb. 11 at the age of 79.

By the time his son Paul Jr. was born, he was manager of Buckhead Chrysler-Plymouth off Piedmont Road. Paul Jr. said the dealership was a “family affair” and right around the corner from the house Paul Jr. grew up in.

Paul Light (For the AJC)

“He’d come home and take a nap every day for lunch, after watching ‘General Hospital’ with his wife, then he’d go back to work,” Paul Jr. said. Even though his father worked long hours, he tried to be with his family as much as he could. “We always took a really cool trip in the summertime. We drove across the country one year.”

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Light and his wife, Antoinette, “were together for 50 years,” and knew each other their whole lives. She was the yin to his yang, Paul Jr. said. “She was an artist, and a free spirit,” he said. “And he was very much different than her, but together they really balanced each other out.”

Their daughter, Antonia Nelson, was inspired by her mother to pursue a career as an artist. She said her father worked nonstop, but “he never missed a concert.” She now plays violin professionally and remembers how her father would drop everything to listen to her play new songs.

“Whatever my path was leading me down, he supported me entirely,” she said. “He genuinely took interest.” Antonia and her father became closer as she developed her freelance music business as an adult. “I have approached my dad for almost every situation,” she said. “He was a master of relationships.”

When she was in high school, she remembers having a car and wanting to push some boundaries. She told her parents she was going to a friend’s house but instead took a trip with her friend to the beach. “The whole way down and the whole way back I just started thinking about being honest,” she said.

That brought her to tears when she told her father. He said, “Thank you for telling me that,” and left it there. He didn’t have to punish her to teach her a lesson because she’d already learned from him that dishonesty was wrong. “He reacted graciously, and he didn’t condemn me for being that way.”

Light liked making deals and put a great importance on his relationships with his customers, some of whom were third- and fourth-generation customers.

Bland met him around 1970 when he was working at Buckhead Chrysler-Plymouth. When the owner retired, “He came to me and we made him a capital loan to put money into the dealership to run it,” Bland said.

“Paul’s mode of operation was: ‘If you don’t like what happens, then I’ll give you your money back.’ That was part of his operation,” Bland said.

Paul Jr. said, “It’s an uncomfortable thing to learn that you really have to keep your word. You have to learn it by doing it. He was always that way, and taught me to be that way. That’s the biggest lesson that I learned from him.”

Bland and Light’s business relationship turned into a friendship when Bland retired in 1995. “For the last 15 years, Paul has been my best friend,” he said. They would play golf and laugh about their lack of talent. “Paul and I were the worst two golfers you ever saw,” he said. “We got onto each other all the time.”

His son said Light’s honesty touched many people he met, and he’d remained true to the values of honesty and integrity that were instilled in him growing up in a coal mine town in the hollows of West Virginia. “They were very independent,” he said. “They looked out for each other. They looked out for themselves. They took care of their own.”

Besides his son and daughter, Light is survived by his mother Angeline; brothers, Ron, John, and Larry; sister Margaret Jane and his grandchildren Declan and Mallory.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Paul Light

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