Bill Pierre, 85, Car Dealer, `Could Sell Ice To Eskimo'

Bill Pierre started small, with a two-car showroom in Lake City and a crew of mechanics who doubled as volunteer firefighters. But this entrepreneur, remembered by his son as living by the golden rule, built an automobile empire over 50 years.

"He could sell ice to an Eskimo. He was just a natural salesman," said his son Bill Pierre Jr. "But he was also known for his fair deals."

Mr. Pierre, founder of Bill Pierre Ford in 1947, died Tuesday. He had been ill in recent weeks, suffering heart-related problems and pneumonia. He was 85.

"He really gave a lot of his energy to building up the Ford dealership," said Bill Pierre Jr., who now runs the Ford and Dodge franchises as well as the automobile-leasing companies included under Pierre Enterprises. "He loved sales because he really liked people."

Born in 1912 in Aberdeen, Mr. Pierre was orphaned at an early age. Fritz Menath, and his wife, who were close family friends, took Mr. Pierre in when he was 8.

Mr. Pierre and the Menaths moved to Copalis Beach, Grays Harbor County, where he graduated from high school in 1930, his son said. After two years at Grays Harbor Junior Community College, he enrolled at the University of Washington.

Mr. Pierre did not finish his degree but, instead, took off with his new bride, Harriet Jane Pierre, to Fairbanks in 1938, where he had a sales position with New York Life Insurance. He quickly moved up the ranks and relocated to Boise in 1939 and then Spokane in 1945, his son said. Amid the booming postwar economy and euphoria, Mr. Pierre decided to enter the automobile business.

"All his friends and fraternity brothers were in the car business," his son said. "And they said to him, `Man, whatever you do, you have to get into the car business.' "

Mr. Pierre obtained a small loan and bought a Ford franchise in 1947 in Lake City - the same site where Bill Pierre Ford and Dodge is still located. He saturated the airwaves with an unforgettable jingle and quickly became known throughout the region.

" `Bill Pierre Ford in little ol' Lake City, 20 minutes away,' " Bill Pierre Jr. half-sang. "You would never forget it because it was this obnoxious man's voice with an Irish accent."

In the late 1950s and '60s, Mr. Pierre's dealership underwent exponential growth, his son said. And he expanded his business, acquiring S.L. Savage Dodge in the late '70s and constructing several more buildings on the seven-acre site on Lake City Way.

Mr. Pierre helped to purchase Lake City's first ambulance and headed the development of Lake City's Pioneer Days. He also donated $50,000 to the Shoreline Community College Auto Technical Center. He retired shortly after his wife died in 1987.

Mr. Pierre is also survived by son James Pierre, of Seattle; grandchildren William Pierre of Seattle, Michael Pierre of Atlanta, James Pierre of Arlington, John Pierre of Everett, Trina Pierre of Woodinville and Joanna Pierre of Marysville; and great-grandsons Stephen Pierre of Arlington, Ryan and Jason Pierre, both of Everett, and Jonathan Pierre of Marysville.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 14514 20th Ave. N.E. A reception will follow at the Inglewood Golf and Country Club in Kenmore.

Donations can be made in Bill Pierre's memory to The Hope Heart Institute, 556 18th Ave., Seattle, 98122, and the Bill Pierre Fellowship at the University of Washington School of Fisheries.

Keiko Morris' phone message number is 206-464-3214. Her e-mail address is: