A Life: David A. Ring, 1952-2014; ‘He Had a Heart as Big as the Moon’
Dave Ring with his son Tyler at a Hartford fishing derby in the early 1990s. (Family photograph)
Dave Ring does deep sea fishing off of Costa Rica in 1994. (Family photograph)
White River Junction — Dave Ring returned one day from his weekly trip to the Connecticut Valley Auto Auction with a used maroon Ford pickup that he couldn’t wait to show to one of his mechanics.
“He knew I needed a new truck and that I loved Fords,” Lenny Garduno recalled recently. Along with repairing vehicles and selling tires, Ring ran a small used car lot next to his shop, Wilder Auto and Tip Top Tire, on Sykes Mountain Avenue.
“How much do you want for it?” asked Garduno.
Ring told Garduno that he could have the usual employee deal. “What it cost him is what you paid,” said Garduno. “He never charged interest.”
Ring would ask his employees how much they could afford to pay each week for a vehicle, and that’s how much he took out of their paychecks. After going to work for Ring in 2000, Garduno bought multiple vehicles that way. “I think I’ve been paying him $50 a week for 14 years,” said Garduno, with a smile.
“A helluva guy to work for,” added mechanic George Kimball, who spent 30 years with Ring. “He treated all of us fair. It was a sad day when he passed. We all lost a good friend.”
After battling a heart ailment and diabetes for years, Ring went to his doctor on April 18 with flu-like symptoms. When he still wasn’t feeling well that evening, he went to bed early.
Sue Ring found her husband unconscious and administered CPR. He was taken by ambulance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, where he died the next day.
He was 61.
Ring was the definition of a self-made man. The son of bakery workers, Ring got a job in the car repair business after graduating from Hartford High School in 1971. In the 1980s, he opened his own repair shop in White River Junction.
He later moved the business to Wilder, but a fire destroyed the shop in 1992. The fire left him “down and out, but he never gave up,” said Charlie Bruce, a longtime friend who lives in Maine.
After the fire, Ring leased a building on Sykes Mountain Avenue, across the street from White River Toyota. During the next 20 years, his business grew to 10 employees, including his wife, Sue, and their son Tyler, who both worked the front counter.
“He started with nothing and built this business up,” said Kimball.
Even after his business was on firm ground, he still jokingly referred to himself as ‘‘Dirt Poor Davey,” said Sue Ring, his spouse for the last 24 years.
Ring arrived at the shop by 6 each morning to do paperwork by hand. (There was a computer on his desk, but he wouldn’t use it, said Sue.) If a customer came in for an oil change or tire rotation before his mechanics arrived, Ring was known to do the work himself in the early years.
“He worked his tail off,” said Garduno.
Ring had his share of fun, too. On Friday nights, he played poker with friends. He was a bowler, too. Hunting and fishing were other passions, which customers quickly discovered.
He covered the walls in the entryway and waiting room with framed photos of fish, deer, bear and moose.
“I don’t fish, I don’t hunt. I don’t like to look at pictures of dead animals, but I still couldn’t stay away,” said Abby Armstrong, a customer who is the director of career services at Vermont Law School.
Armstrong started taking her clunkers to Ring 30 years ago, when she was finishing law school. “In the beginning it was because I didn’t have any money,” she said at his memorial service. “Then I continued going to Dave because he was the nicest guy and a magician with cars.
“You could sit in his shop and just shoot the breeze. We’d talk about dogs, country music and maple sugaring. He knew about a lot of stuff other than cars.”
Ring made the shop into a place where folks didn’t always mind waiting around for their car to get fixed. “It’s better than any barber shop,” said Christina Scott, a family friend. “You go in there to learn everything that’s going on in the community.”
Ring wasn’t afraid to share his feelings with some of his regular customers. He talked with Armstrong about how much he missed his daughter, Lesley, who died in 2007 at age 25. Ring and his family were headed in two vehicles to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for vacation.
In Virginia, Lesley and her partner pulled over on the shoulder of Interstate 95 to change drivers.
Lesley was standing on the shoulder of the highway when another vehicle veered into her. She died at the scene.
“How he handled that, I’ll never know,” said Bruce, who was running a tire shop in Claremont when he met Ring in the early 1970s. “Still, it took a lot out of him. There’s no way it couldn’t.”
But it didn’t squelch his giving nature. “He had a heart as big as the moon,” said Bruce, a hunting and fishing buddy.
Every year, Ring took his employees on a boat cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee.
At Thanksgiving, he brought them turkeys and pies. Just before Christmas, they could count on healthy bonuses. “Dave believed that if you took good care of your employees, they’d take good care of you,” said Bruce.
Joe Day grew up in a public housing project in White River Junction. Not long after he came out of Hartford High School in 2001, Day went to work for Ring. For a while, Day didn’t have a driver’s license. With help from Dave and Sue, he got one. There was also a matter of some unpaid traffic tickets that the Rings helped with as well.
“Dave was the first postive role model I had in my life,” said Day.
Like his boss, Kimball had some experience with heart trouble. Last year, while he missed 10 straight weeks of work, Ring continued to pay him. “Many companies wouldn’t have done that,” said Kimball. “Dave took care of us.”
His generosity spread beyond his workers. The Rings own several rental properties in the White River Junction area. “If (tenants) couldn’t make the rent on time it was never a big issue,” said his son Tyler, 23. “They’d always work it out.”
And if a youth baseball team or high school music club came in seeking a donation, he couldn’t say no. “He gave to every kid who came in here,” said Sue.
Before they met, Ring did more than his share of hard living. “Sue was his savior,” said Bruce. “Without her, he would have self-destructed. Sue turned his whole idea of life around.”
Getting her husband to take better care of himself was an ongoing struggle, said Sue, who, with Tyler’s help, has taken over running of the shop. In 2000, Ring underwent quadruple bypass surgery, but keeping the pounds off wasn’t easy.
He planned to retire in November when he turned 62. Dave and Sue were looking forward to taking another vacation cruise, something they had often done together. There was one place in particular on their list to visit soon.
“Dave always wanted to go to Alaska,” said Sue. “We were making plans. We were even thinking of selling the business.”
A business that Dave Ring not only raised from the ashes, but a place where workers and customers alike knew the owner as a friend.
Jim Kenyon can be reached at email@example.com.