Life Story: Wally McCarthy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He made a name for himself selling cars. And Wally McCarthy earned a reputation for being genuine and kind. He earned national awards for the success of his many car dealerships in Minnesota.

Wally was 93 years old when he passed away on May 31st. And his family says he never retired.

In this week’s Life Story, we take a look at how Wally shared his philosophy on life with those who worked closely with him.

wally mccarthy Life Story: Wally McCarthy

(credit: CBS)

A man who became a legend in the car business was a man of very humble beginnings. Wally’s mother died when he was 7 years old… leaving him to find shelter at a friend’s home in Newport and working to support himself.

Jason McCarthy is Wally’s son.

“He told me when he was in high school he would work in a meat packing plant. He didn’t have a parent to write a note for him to miss school. So he’d handwrite a note to the principal saying please excuse Wally from school today, he has to work, and sign it ‘Wally,’” Jason said.

He served in the U.S. Navy and then worked as an accountant at a car dealership. Wally went on to own several dealerships across the Twin Cities, selling everything from Oldsmobiles to Cadillacs and Hummers.

wally mccarthys awards Life Story: Wally McCarthy

(credit: CBS)

“He always preached that if someone came in, if we had a thousand dollar car on the lot or an $800 car that had 250,000 miles on it and was rusty and this and that, if someone came in and bought that car… that was a new car to them and they should feel as special as the person that comes in and buys the most expensive car,” Jason said.

Deb Moe worked with Wally for 30 years and calls him a mentor.

“He told me one day, he goes, ‘Deb, your office people need to understand that you have their back. That you are loyal to them,’” Deb said.

Wally sometimes defied the wishes of automakers.

“They’d go, ‘Why do you have a store that looks like a carnival?’ And he’d say, ‘Because I’ve never known anyone who goes to a carnival that doesn’t have fun. Buying a car should be fun,'” Jason said.

Wally McCarthy’s Richfield dealership was featured in the 1996 movie Fargo. Some scenes were shot in the sales office.

Golfing and fishing made Wally happy.

In the summer, he was known for rarely wearing a shirt… always wearing a smile.

“That was the peaceful part of his life, this was business, this was activity, this was selling cars and dealing with people. Fishing was where he connected in a real one on one,” Deb said.

Wally McCarthy was known for serving warm cookies at his dealerships. He loved sweets.

Again, he was 93 years old when he passed away two weeks ago.

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