BREAKING NEWS: Auto magnate R.C. Alexander dies, remembered for work ethic
By Mindy Tate, Editor
Auto magnate R.C. Alexander was known for his vast and far-reaching Middle Tennessee automotive empire, but to many people, he was known as a good friend with a generous heart.
Rollie C. “R.C.” Alexander Jr., of Thompson's Station, Tenn., died Dec. 16, 2010, in a Nashville hospital while having surgery as part of his recovery from a horseback riding accident earlier this year.
Born in rural Williamson County, Mr. Alexander became Williamson County’s most successful businessman through hard work and dedication to his family. He founded Harpeth Motor Company on Franklin’s Main Street in late 1961. He first affiliated with Ford Motor Company in 1962, remaining a Ford dealer ever since. He built a new Ford-Mercury dealership building on Hillsboro Road in 1963. He was joined in the business by his son Barry in 1969. In the 1970s he started adding dealerships to include more domestic and import brands. At the time of his passing, he was the largest automotive retailer in Tennessee. From his humble beginnings, Mr. Alexander worked his way to employ almost 1,000 people in 22 dealerships in Franklin, Columbia, Murfreesboro, Dickson and Cookeville. His pride and joy was the fact there were now three generations of Alexanders that were working for the organization.
“I would have to say I have known R.C. since I developed Williamson Square shopping center in 1987 and we have had an interesting relationship as a neighbor. In the years of me being mayor, I have grown to appreciate R.C. for his talent in making money, deals and owning good real estate and he will be missed in this community,” said Franklin Mayor John Schroer.
“He was just unique and one of a kind. The positive thing was he was hard to get to know real well, but he created a lot of jobs in this community and put a lot of money into city and county. He has a great family of employees that are going to miss him. He has had a huge economic impact on this community,” Schroer said.
No one really knows how many he has helped because there are countless individuals and organizations. Known for his support of the Franklin Rodeo, Williamson County 4-H, and the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, he loved people who overcame obstacles by working hard. An equestrian, he loved horses but he loved his family more than anything else.
Williamson County Trustee Joey Davis was a young man fresh out of the Navy when he returned to Williamson County and met R.C. Alexander.
"When I came home from the Navy and went to work for Franklin Laundry, Harpeth Motors was right across the street. I brought a truck from Sonny Harper, who worked for Mr. Alexander and Mr. Alexander and I became Saturday afternoon friends. We would sit and talk and he talked to me as an equal," said Davis.
"A couple of years later when I was working for Franklin High Band Booster and we needed a place to store fruit, he let us have the old Harpeth Automotive," said Davis. "Almost any project I was involved in I went to see Mr. R.C. He gave me guidance and advice. He always answered my question in a businesslike fashion. I just found him to be straightforward in anything I would ask him."
Former County Commission Chairman Houston Naron, also a Williamson County native, knew Mr. Alexander since he opened his Main Street auto location and said he never failed to be impressed by how hard the man worked, even as he grew older.
“I am very moved by the fact that a very special friend, Mr. R.C. Alexander had been someone who meant very much to me my whole life. I watched him as he developed his businesses across Middle Tennessee and I was awed by his work ethic,” Naron said. “He epitomized the saying, 'The harder you work, the luckier you get.'
“When other people were trying to cut back, he believed in promoting his business and advertising. He would double his advertising when other people were cutting back,” Naron said. “It grieves me that Williamson County has lost a very strong businessman that knew what to do to make things work.”
Mr. Alexander is survived by his wife, Denise Alexander, Thompson's Station, Tenn.; sons, Barry (Jackie) Alexander, Thompson's Station, Tenn., Don (Melanie) Alexander, Murfreesboro, Tenn. and Mike (Liz) Alexander, Franklin, Tenn.; daughter, Cindy Church, Franklin, Tenn.; stepson, Bryan Cartmell, Memphis, Tenn.; sister, Lorene Rodgers, Franklin, Tenn.; grandchildren, Jennifer (Paul) Anderson, Dane (Brandon) Alexander, Ashley Alexander, Stacey (Todd) Downs, Don Alexander Jr., Christy (Matt) McAfee, Mike Church, Megan Alexander and Clay Alexander; eight great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be conducted Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010 at 2 p.m. at Thompson Station Baptist Church, Jerry Hill officiating with visitation, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010 from 3-8 p.m. and one hour prior to the service at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home. Interment will follow in Williamson Memorial Gardens.
Active pallbearers will be Dane Alexander, Clay Alexander, Mikey Church, Tyler Anderson, Ron Reid and Bryan Cartmell. Honorary pallbearers will be general managers of Alexander Automotive Group.
Memorials may be made to the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, 298 Middle Road, River Head, NY 11901.
Posted on: 12/16/2010