Ivan Vassall Sr., 96, who operated the first black-owned auto dealership in Philadelphia and, for a time, owned a Ford dealership in Chestnut Hill, died Nov. 1 of cancer at his home in Roxborough.
Mr. Vassall’s dealership in Chestnut Hill, Vassall Motors at 8200 Germantown Ave., would later become the home of Magarity Ford.
After working for three years as a salesman at American Motors. in Germantown, Mr. Vassall joined Edwin McClendon to purchase the dealership 1969, calling it Vassall & McClendon Inc. and becoming the first black owners of an auto dealership in the city.
After a few months, Mr. Vassall took over the dealership, which became Vassall Motors. In the 1980s Vassall Motors became a Chrysler dealership.
In 1974, Mr. Vassall was named as one of Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top 100 Chief Executives and was honored that year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. When he moved his dealership to Roxborough in 1977, he appeared in a photo in Jet magazine with Gerald C. Meyers, president of American Motors, and Roy D. Chapin Jr., chairman of the board.
He also was invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter along with other African American leaders.
Born in Jamaica, Mr. Vassall came to the United States in his 20s and began selling American Motors cars in Providence, R.I., where he met his future wife, Mariah. The couple raised a family in Mt. Airy and Glenside.
He was an accomplished tennis player who competed in numerous tournaments and once played a match with Arthur Ashe. He was a member of the American Tennis Association and belonged to several tennis clubs.
He was an elder with the Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Murial Dillon; son Ivan Jr., Eric and Andres; 21 grandchildren; 37 great-grandchildren, and 15 great-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 6826 Ardleigh St., in XXXX.
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