George Paddleford: Mr. Concours d'Elegance

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 28, 1999

George Paddleford: Mr. Concours d'Elegance

by Mickey Shanabarger

It is hard not to be impressed when talking with George Paddleford. Perhaps that is because you feel like you're in the presence of local history.

Paddleford arrived in the Palo Alto area in 1925 as an undergraduate at Stanford University and has remained in the area almost ever since. Now 90, he has not only witnessed the considerable change in the area over the past quarter-century but also contributed to it through his interest in business and fund-raising for charity.

In 1935, Paddleford purchased the Cadillac-Oldsmobile car dealership in Palo Alto, which he proceeded to build into a successful enterprise that emphasized integrity, service to the customer and respect and consideration for his employees.

As Paddleford recalls, "I had ambition and the hope maybe of getting ahead with it (the car dealership). I figured if I could do as good as the competition, who never thought I would make it past six months, well, I would be OK, I would make it."

He made it. When Paddleford sold the dealership in 1987, he was considered a patriarch of the General Motors Corp., since his franchise was the oldest in California under the same ownership.

One of Paddleford's lasting contributions to Palo Alto is the annual Concours d'Elegance, a spectacular car show held at Stanford every summer and sponsored by the Palo Alto Host Lions Club. Paddleford is a lifetime member and former president (1938) of the club.

"Thirty-odd years ago, one of our former Lions Club members (Gene Stewart) had heard about a Concours, someplace, and that it was a money maker. There were five of us (Irv Austin, Craig Calkins, Don Maxwell and George Rickabaugh were the other four), and we sat around and it seemed like a good way to make money. It just started."

From such humble beginnings in 1967, the Concours d'Elegance has turned into one of the most successful and prestigious car shows on the West Coast. It has funneled more than $1 million to local and national charities and the Stanford University Buck/Cardinal Athletic Scholarship Fund.

As Paddleford likes to point out, "When we started, we had no idea what we were doing, no idea what a concours was, and we knew nothing about antique cars. This (the concours) is my basic charity, only I've been spending over 30 years at it."

Paddleford's success is all the more notable when considering that in 1931, as a recent graduate of Stanford University, his first job was pumping gas for the General Petroleum Co., for $90 a month. But his interest in cars and their fuel is not at all surprising: Paddleford was the only child of a oil executive, spending his youthful summers in the oil fields of Mexico.

Paddleford is a joint founder of the Peninsula Executive Association; a member of the California Association of Employers; a founding-charter member of the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Menlo Park; and a member of the Palo Alto Men's Club. He was the first sponsor of the ATHENA Award, which is presented annually by the Women's Section of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce to the outstanding businesswoman of the year, and he has been a lifelong fan of Stanford football and basketball.

As a member of the Chamber of Commerce's Traffic Department, Paddleford helped throw the switch in 1962 when the last traffic light between San Francisco and San Jose on the Bayshore Highway was turned off.

In 1991, Paddleford received the Gleim Jewelers Community Service Award, which is "presented annually to an individual who, through outstanding voluntary service, has contributed to maintaining and improving the quality of life in our community." He was recognized in 1987 by General Motors for his 50 years as an Oldsmobile dealer (in 1968, General Motors split up the Cadillac-Oldsmobile combination with dealers). And, in 1995, he received a Stanford University athletic department Special Recognition Citation for his efforts in raising money "to fund the education of dozens of Stanford student-athletes via the Buck/Cardinal Athletic Scholarship Fund."

But what is most impressive about George Paddleford is his modesty. He never promotes himself but gives credit and praise to others. While plain-spoken, Paddleford always models the good manners and courtliness of another era.

And underlying everything is a sense of humor, a playfulness he seems to have possessed all his life. In typical Paddleford fashion, he summarizes his professional career as "Bought the dealership in 1935 and retired 52 years later. Exhausted!"

Today, he is "retired" (he still works at the concours office several days a week) and lives in Menlo Park with his wife, Esther. "My wife is a lovely lady, and we get along beautifully and I admire her, respect her, and I love her very much. I am very content with my life. I have been very lucky."

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