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Remembering Lucian “Mac” McElroy

The carwashing industry lost another veteran and icon, when Lucian “Mac” McElroy, the founder of Proto-Vest, died on May 8, 2013, in a car accident.


The carwashing industry lost another veteran and icon, when Lucian “Mac” McElroy, the founder of Proto-Vest, died on May 8, 2013, in a car accident. Mac is remembered as not only a hard worker, but also a friend and mentor. He was humble and loyal and he also had a great sense of humor. One of his golfing buddies, Ralph May, shared that he and would go golfing and Mac would him up to watch where he hit the ball. Mac would hit the ball first. “We would get on the golf cart and Mac would ask me where the ball was. My stock answer was, ‘I forgot!’”The following statements were released by people who knew and worked with McElroy.

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Getting it right

By J.R. Klemmer, vice president and general manager of Proto-Vest Inc.

To have known, worked and be mentored by Mac for the past 25 years has been and honor.  To watch the way his thought process was and how he would decipher, analyze and problem solve was an amazing thing to see.  We would spend hours with pen, paper and calculator in hand going over a project’s feasibility. Mac would always say to me, “You have to run out of ways of getting it wrong before you get it right.”  He would tell me countless stories of days gone by and his life experiences.  Each story would have a lesson to be learned. 


As my mentor, I don’t believe I could have a better role model to emulate. His words were solid, true and honest.  If he said he would do it, you could count on it happening.

Over the years one of the ongoing jokes with co-workers has been them giving me the nickname “little Mac” or “Mac junior” which I can honestly say I am very proud of.

Mac had a way of coining a phrase what we here called “Mac-izms”. They will always make me smile.

“At my age I don’t buy green bananas”

“You want a quick answer? NO”

“Liars may figure but figures never lie”

“The pigs get fat and the hogs get slaughtered.  Don’t be a hog”

“You’re looking at me like a deer in the headlights”

Mac had four children, two daughters and two sons. In 2001 he lost his oldest son to a tragic accident. On that day Mac hugged me and said I had three sons but now only two.  Those words on that difficult day and his expression of love I will never forget.


He lived life with enthusiasm more than most!  From the young age of 17 as an underwater welder during WWII stationed at Pearl Harbor, to being a race car driver in his 20s to early 30s and an accomplished pilot, he was also successful businessman and inventor with over 40 patents to his name.

I found this quote and it seems appropriate for Mac.

Life’s journey is not to arrive safely at the grave, but rather to skid in sideways totally warn out shouting.

“Holy Cow what a ride….”

You will be greatly missed.


Mentor, storyteller, friend

Kim Balli, sales manager for Proto-Vest Inc.

To many of us at Proto-Vest “Mac” was more than a boss he was a mentor, a father figure, a teacher and a friend.  Anyone that truly knew him called him “Mac”.  His work ethic was something to be admired and at 86 years of age he still came to work everyday, except on those Tuesdays that he went golfing. 


Mac had stories as I think most 86 year olds do, and loved to share them.  He would tell of times that he had as a deep sea diver in his younger days in the Navy or as a midget racecar driver.  He had his own plane and flew all over the country visiting different carwashes. Some of his flying stories were fun to listen too and usually involved other people who also liked to talk about their experiences flying with Mac.  Mac was an outdoorsman of sorts and loved fishing in Canada and skiing in Colorado, I think it was just a few years ago when he was 83 that he took to the slopes again with his friend Ralph and came back to work to tell us all that he was able to ski for free since he was over 80.  We all had a good laugh at that!  He loved the game of golf and was still playing almost every week.


I have never worked for anyone who was more fair and honest.   He took time to make decisions and would apologize if he was wrong.  He would honor a deal with the shake of your hand because that meant more than anything else.  Mac liked to be involved with every aspect of his business.  Even at 86 years of age we would see him on a ladder occasionally in production working on a machine.  Then an hour later he would be talking to a customer about the benefits of a Proto-Vest dryer.

Mac had passion and drive even at 86 and this is what kept him going.  I wish that I can have the same passion for life as he did when I am that age.  And I can only hope that we can make him proud by using everything that he taught us to continue what he started.


We miss you, Mac.


Loyal to the end

By Robert Burch

Lucian G. McElroy banked with me for almost 45 years.  Mac was an astute business man whose word was as good as gold.  Looking Mac in the eye and shaking his hand was as good as having numerous collateral and loan documents executed. If Mac agreed to do something, it would be done. Period, end of story!  He was also one of the smartest men I knew; his office walls were plastered with patents.  At the age of 86, Mac was still developing new products with the help of his longtime attorney, Hal Milton.  He was very loyal.  Even though he built a plant in Glendale, AZ, and moved his manufacturing operations there, he still maintained all his banking relationships with me in Michigan, 2,000 miles away.


 But I mainly remember Mac as a friend and all the good times we had together over the years.  We travelled six times to the Arctic Circle on fishing trips.  He would fly our group there in his plane.  He helped me overcome my fear of flying by explaining all the noises and bumps experienced during a flight.  His pressurized turboprop was equipped with every modern avionic device available.  I was more at ease with him in the pilot seat than I was flying with a major airline.  Every February I would spend some time with him reminiscing about the good old days.  Mac always tried to convince me to retire in Scottsdale.  It was hard to argue with him while I was enjoying the Arizona sun. 


It is hard to imagine that on my next trip west Mac won't be there.


Having faith

By Hal Milton

Much to my pleasure, I have been the patent attorney for Proto-Vest since its inception by “Mac.” Mac was a perfectionist in everything he did and expected the same of us fortunate enough to work for him. On the other hand, Mac gave his total and full support once he had faith in your abilities. Mr. McElroy made me better both professionally and personally. The world has lost a contributor. We will miss him, but we will always remember him. Hal Milton


Hal Milton


Humble beginnings

By Daniel Beaupied of PECO Carwash Systems

What people need to know is that Mac started pretty humbly. He told me how his future mother-in-law once said to Pat (his wife and girlfriend at the time) that Mac would not amount to much and that he is just a mechanic. Mac had a service station business years ago wrenching on cars and as he built his business, he would often fall asleep under the car he was working on and then wake up in the morning to finish it without going home. One day after years of building up different businesses, he moved to a beautiful home with lots of property for his family to grow up on. His mother-in-law entered the home for the first time and said, “my this is nice,” and Mac replied, “Pretty good for a mechanic huh?”


It was well known that Mac loved to fly. He was very safe and took excellent care of his airplane. Some of his phrases regarding his love of flying were: I know my luggage will show up where ever I go. He also knew that poor weather conditions and lack of fuel were the biggest causes of small aircraft fatalities which led to this gem: Don’t crash in bad weather because in three days the sun will be shining ― a reference to sitting and waiting out the storm because if we die today they’ll bury us in three days when the sun is shining! We often stayed a little longer in some pretty nice places.


 We were flying out west on one particular trip and the flight plan had us flying near Mount Rushmore. Mac contacted air traffic control and asked to lower his altitude and adjust course for a better look at the monument. He was granted permission. You have a small window of altitude adjustment that pilots are allowed to fly within. Mac dropped a little lower than allowed and it wasn’t long before air traffic control contacted us to return to our designated altitude. He knew he was going to get caught flying too low but as the saying goes, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness…”


We flew to Phoenix and Las Vegas more times than I can count. His favorite fixed base operator to stop at along the way was Flower Aviation in Salina, KS. He would fill up the plane on the way out and then again on the way back. For his business, the company gave him a supply of steaks for his freezer. I think Mac liked the talking parrot they had and the ice tea too.

 On more than one occasion on long trips Mac would set the auto pilot and we would discuss all types of things from business to personal things going on. But he would get sleepy sometimes and want to take a cat nap. He would say, “wake me up if something happens!”  On one particular trip to Phoenix, my wife flew with us and Mac asked if she wanted to fly up front with him. Mac knew she was very apprehensive and had never been in a small plane before. Two hours into a four-hour flight he sprung the nap thing on her and freaked her right out.


Mac had a number of different business partners from different companies. One day in the late 70s he and a partner walked into a Lincoln dealership to purchase two company cars. The salesman who took care of them sat them down and discussed the deal for a couple of Lincoln Continentals. Once the deal was finalized, Mac’s partner reached for his checkbook and in one quick quip Mac said “No, no, no, you got lunch ― I’ll get the cars!” Mac was screwing around a bit but the look on the car dealer’s face must have been priceless.


In the early 90s Mac and a Tom O’Connell, a carwash operator from Michigan created a campaign, “Fight Free” to generate a lawsuit against gas stations and large petroleum companies from offering free carwashes with fill up. Mac was generous with his time and money as he supplied the airplane and fuel to fly around the country to help educate carwash operators and raise money to file suits against big oil. Tom was well spoken and had the ability to talk to the regional operators and convince them to donate to the cause. Every dime collected from the campaign went to fight for operators’ rights to have a level playing field when it came operators competing against oil companies on carwash pricing. In addition to the travel expenses, Mac provided the funds and personnel to manage the campaign account.


Golf was a passion of his and I had the opportunity to play many well-manicured courses around the country. One trip to visit Don Hammond (a dear friend and distributor) in Florida, Mac struck up a conversation with a golf professional from South Africa who was new to the golf course were visiting. Mac hired him for lessons and the guy had him hitting the ball further than ever before and straighter. I was a hack and Mac said to the pro, “If you can get this guy to hit a ball, I’ll double your rate! He did and Mac paid him well. The next day we both played like we never met the guy before in our life.


Anytime we sat for a meal in Las Vegas, Mac would cover any KENO bet we would place. “Don’t give the casino your money, I’ll take the bet,” he would say. He would make money every time.

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