W. T. Vandergriff
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Arlington civic icon dies at 90
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W. T. Vandergriff remembered fondly
The Dallas Morning News-July 8, 1992

Mention W. T. "Hooker' Vandergriff's name in Arlington, and people will reel off a list of all the charities, civic groups and causes he funded for more than five decades.

"Hooker seemed to be the backer of every kind of cause,' doing everything from providing uniforms for football teams and bands at Arlington schools to donating land for Arlington Memorial Hospital and Carrollton City Hall, said Tom Cravens, Mr. Vandergriff's neighbor of almost 50 years.

"He was the one who always stepped forward.'

The 90-year-old Mr. Vandergriff, father of Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff and founder of two Arlington car dealerships, died early Tuesday at the hospital he helped build, Arlington Memorial. It had been Mr. Vandergriff's home for the better part of eight years because of Alzheimer's disease, strokes and cancer.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, he died of complications from pneumonia.

"It's a very sad day for Arlington,' said Mr. Cravens. "It's the passing of a legend.'

For many years, Mr. Vandergriff bought instruments for the Arlington High School band and provided buses for its out-of-town trips, including a much-hailed appearance in California's Tournament of Roses Parade.

In addition to being remembered for his generosity, Mr. Vandergriff was recalled as a hands-on businessman.

"He had his way of doing things,' said Warren Leake, who has worked as the Vandergriff dealerships' accountant for 43 years. "He kept his finger on everything all the time.'

Although at one time he owned five car dealerships and two furniture stores and had plenty of employees who could do the work for him, Mr. Vandergriff insisted on doing things himself.

When "a lot of old-timers' would return to a Vandergriff car dealership for a new automobile, "he'd handle selling them a car himself,' Mr. Leake said. "He'd inspect all the used cars himself and would decide whether they should be retailed to a customer or whole-saled off to other dealers.'

Mr. Vandergriff was a good businessman who always treated his employees fairly, Mr. Leake said.

"He was a great old man,' he said. "I felt a real deep sadness this morning when I heard he'd gone.'

Tom Vandergriff said his father influenced him to become active in public life.

"He inspired all of us to have a keen interest in people,' said Tom Vandergriff, whose public service includes many years as Arlington mayor and as a congressman. "He loved his family. He loved his business, but he loved the community and I think we've all inherited that interest from him.'

An Arlington resident since 1937, William Thomas Vandergriff got his nickname as a child when he and his history classmates were studying the founding of Connecticut. "Hooker' refers to Thomas Hooker, a minister who helped found Connecticut.

Mr. Vandergriff, who was born in Farmers Branch, graduated from Carrollton High School and attended Grubb's Vocational College, now the University of Texas at Arlington.

After short stints as a bookkeeper and a dry cleaner, Mr. Vandergriff joined his father, J. T. Vandergriff, in running a Chevrolet dealership in Carrollton. In 1937, he opened his own Chevrolet lot in Arlington. He later opened a Buick dealership and bought his father's original franchise.

In addition to donating land for a YMCA, a school administration building and several parks in Arlington, Mr. Vandergriff served as an Arlington school board member. He was granted a life membership in the Texas Parents and Teachers Association and was named Arlington's Citizen of the Year during the 1950s.

He also received Sertoma International's Service to Mankind Award and the Good Citizenship Medal of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Besides his son, Mr. Vandergriff is survived by his wife of 69 years, Charles Pleasant Mayes Vandergriff; a daughter, Virginia Deering of Arlington; eight grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Arlington, with burial private.

The Dallas Morning News - July 8, 1992
Submitted by Edward Lynn Williams

 

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