BELFAST —The Quirk family name has become one of the most recognized in eastern Maine, thanks to John “Jack” Quirk Sr.’s successful automobile dealership chain. He died Nov. 10, leaving behind a lifetime of business success, local charity and advocacy for the industry.

Quirk died in his sleep at his Belfast home, according to his son Jack Quirk Jr. The CEO of Quirk Auto Group, Jack described his father as a good businessman, personable and someone who could be a mediator in disputes. “I think his saying was, ‘Lets get it done on the court steps instead of going to court.’”

Growing up with a father who owned an auto alignment shop, Quirk Sr. helped his father out, Jack said. But he did not immediately go into the automobile industry. He spent some time stationed in Pittsburgh when he was in the Air Force toward the end of the Korean War.

John Quirk Sr. leans on a car, posing for a photo captured in 1953. Courtesy of Jack Quirk Jr.

After he came back to Maine, he went to work for his uncle, Owen Darling, who owned the Darling’s dealerships before it sold Toyotas, Jack said. He worked his way up to sales manager, a position he held for several years, where he learned many aspects of owning a dealership.

He opened his first dealership, Village Subaru, with business partner Ron Verow when no one in the area was interested in selling that make of cars, the younger Quirk said. In 1980, Quirk and his partner moved the dealership’s location from Griffin Road in Bangor over to Hogan Road when the Bangor Mall was being built.

Cars parked in front of Village Subaru’s first location on Griffin Road in Bangor in 1973. Courtesy of Jack Quirk Jr.

In 1989 he bought a Chevrolet dealership and began to expand his business, Jack said. In the early ’90s Quirk bought more land and further expanded the marques he sold to include Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Saturn, Mercedes Benz, Jeep, Cadillac and Oldsmobile, giving rise to Quirk Auto Group.

Jack thinks it is remarkable that his father was able to stay in business with his six sons. “That’s not easy to do in today’s world,” he said.

After Quirk retired in 2005, his sons continued to expand the business by acquiring dealerships in Portland, Augusta and Belfast. They also operate four Carquest stores, along with some other small businesses.

“We’ve taken on his ability to grow and support the community and take care of our employees,” Jack said. “And that’s probably the number one reason why we are where are today, is because of our employees that have been right there with us — a true family business.”

An advocate for auto dealers

Quirk is recognized nationally for his advocacy on behalf of the automobile sales industry in the state, Jack said. He met with state and federal representatives to advocate and advise officials on how legislation might affect the industry. Other dealership owners would seek his advice.

“Jack Sr., you could almost call him an icon in the Maine state automobile industry,” Jack said. “He was respected by all the dealers in the state, also nationally … and he represented all the dealers in the state on a lot of different levels.”

Maine Automobile Dealers Association President Thomas Brown knew Quirk for over 40 years through his legislative advocacy. Quirk became a member of the association when he opened his first dealership. He served on the organization’s board of directors for many years and was chairman of the board for one term.

Quirk was the Maine representative on the National Automobile Dealers Association board of directors for nine years, Brown said. He helped present information to many legislative and regulatory bodies in the state and nationally.

Quirk advocated on issues concerning dealership licensing, dealership taxes, titling of vehicles and many other aspects of the industry, Brown said. As a dealer he knew what could work, what would not work and what needed to be adjusted.

He was the type of person who could talk to anyone and was very knowledgeable about the industry, which helped him talk to regulators and legislators openly, Brown said. He knew what he was doing and could express it well.

“He became friends with them, he knew a lot of people, obviously, from the greater Bangor area, which is where he was born and brought up and had his businesses, for the most part,” Brown said. “And from all of those perspectives, he had personal relationships as a child of Bangor and a participant in various Bangor-related activities.”

‘He was the guy’

Looking to the future, Jack thinks the auto group will remain in the family. Several of Quirk’s grandchildren now work in the business.

Only one son decided not to get into the family business. Seth Quirk followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force and has made a career in the military, Jack said.

Jack’s father served on several boards and gave back through donations to charities in the greater Bangor area, Jack said. He will be remembered for many things.

“He had many accolades for the things that he has done, not only for the community, but for representing the dealers in the state of Maine,” Jack said. “If there was a problem or something, people would call him up, you know — he was the guy.”