Tom McKinney couldn’t possibly put names with the thousands of customers who’ve bought cars from him over the years, but he likely remembers most of their faces.

“The first car I sold was a 1962 Chevrolet Impala that cost $650,” McKinney said.

At that time McKinney was a salesman for Grady Whitlock Ford, which became Patriot Ford and is today Ramey Ford.

McKinney sold Keith Tyler his first car in 1967.

Tyler remembers the car he bought from McKinney.

“It was a Mercury Cougar,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”

Today, Tyler is sales manager at Ramey Ford and was McKinney’s boss. He said McKinney had become something of a local institution at the dealership, and added that he never had a more loyal or dedicated employee.

“He worked here when it was Grady Whitlock, Patriot Ford and now Ramey,” Tyler said.

Tyler said McKinney was the car salesman customers enjoyed dealing with.

“He took customer service very seriously,” Tyler said. “If a customer had a problem, Tom would do absolutely anything to get it resolved. He was one true gentleman.”

“All I did is try to treat my customers the way I would want my wife and my family to be treated,” McKinney said.

When it came time to trade or buy a new or used car, many of McKinney’s customers have come back to him several times during his 40-plus-year-career — refusing to deal with any other salesman.

“People would ask for him all the time,” Tyler said.

Now McKinney’s former customers at Ramey Ford in Beckley are going to have to find a new salesman.

McKinney, 67, has called it quits and retired.

“There are many outstanding sales people at Ramey Ford,” he said. “This is just a great place to buy a car or truck. It is not difficult to be a successful salesman at a place that offers such good deals and customer service to their customers.”

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McKinney recalled a career launched in 1965.

“I grew up in Fayette County and went to Fayetteville High School,” he said. “After high school, I worked on a farm for about three years operating farm machinery and selling livestock.”

In 1961, McKinney was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent 15 months in Korea.

“My wife had moved to Manassas, Va., and we lived there for a year-and-a-half,” McKinney said. “We wanted to come back to West Virginia and on one visit I stopped by to see my cousin Grady Whitlock. He owned Grady Whitlock Ford.”

McKinney said he asked his cousin for a job.

“I started as a car salesman who had never sold a car before,” he said. “I had some good people training me. I worked in used cars for about four years and then transferred to new cars which I stayed in for many years. I worked in both new and used over the years.”

McKinney says he’ll pass the time fishing, hunting and working on projects around the house.

“I have a few projects around the house I want to get done,” he said. “I have always been interested in real estate and have a couple pieces of property I am working with.”

But McKinney says he’ll miss the pleasure of chatting with longtime customers and the challenge of winning new ones.

“It has been a pleasure and I have met some of the best people in the world while selling cars and trucks,” he said.

What is McKinney’s advice to those just beginning their careers as a car salesman?

“Find a good dealership, hang in there with it and don’t jog around from one dealership to another,” he said. “You see this a lot with young salesman. It takes about five years to get a customer base built and you can’t do that when you keep starting over again and again.”

Although his sales success has been rewarding, McKinney said “thank you” from customers meant more to him than anything.

“To know you treated someone the right way and they appreciated it always meant so much to me,” he said. “I will truly miss everyone.”

McKinney resides in Oak Hill with his wife, Sandra. The couple has two children and two grandchildren.

— E-mail: fpace@register-herald.com

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