When longtime auto dealer Richard A. Roto, 84, wanted to drive to a doctor's appointment last week, his wife offered to drive him instead. After they switched, she looked at him in the passenger seat of his Lincoln, saw that he was unresponsive and called 911.
Roto, who had pulmonary disease and heart failure, died Thursday at age 84.
Roto owned and operated Roto Mercury Sales in Arlington Heights, a dealership that sold Mercury and Lincoln vehicles and later added Mazda and Subaru. He founded the company in 1954 and sold the dealership in 2011.
"He was a man who absolutely loved the automobile business," said his widow, Barbara. "He couldn't imagine himself doing anything else."
Roto was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from Wright College. He later joined the Air Force Reserves. He was then transferred from Chicago to Texas when the Korean conflict started.
He met his future wife when she came with friends to his house for a party, Barbara Roto said.
"We had later gotten engaged, but when he returned from a furlough, he wanted to get married right away," Barbara said. "So we had one week to plan the wedding and we did the invitations by phone."
After the wedding in 1951, they returned to Texas, where he served as a sergeant in the Air Force. After his service, the couple settled in Glenview to raise their family.
In 1954, Roto started his Mercury dealership on Northwest Highway in Arlington Heights. He added Lincoln vehicles in 1967.
By 1978, he tripled the size of the dealership by moving it to Rand Road in Arlington Heights. By 1998, he added Mazda and Subaru, said his son Robert Roto of Deer Park.
"He was a good family man, but the centerpiece of his life was the dealership," Robert Roto said.
The family lived in Glenview in the 1950s through the 1990s when they moved to Kildeer. Also during those years, the family traveled extensively around the world, including Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and he placed pins in a map of all of their trips.
"There were so many pins in the map, you couldn't put any more in Europe," Robert Roto said.
In addition to his work, Roto was involved in some trade organizations, including serving as a director in the 1970s and 1980s for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, based in Oakbrook Terrace.
He was a "dapper dresser" and a "good guy," said Jerry Cizek of Glen Ellyn, a former association president. "Dick was very much an old-school dealer. He believed in the hard work ethic and face-to-face contact. He was always a salesman."
Besides Barbara, Roto is survived by sons, Robert and Richard; daughter, Suzanne Lake; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Roto will be remembered by friends and family during a visitation 3 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Lauterburg & Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Hwy., Arlington Heights. A memorial Mass will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Wayside Church, 432 W. Park St., Arlington Heights.