Malcolm Pray remembered as community icon

Malcolm Pray, pictured here in 2005, by a portrait of his late son Malcolm. A longtime community icon, known just as well for his love of classic cars as his devotion to groups like the Boy Scouts, Mr. Pray died this weekend at the age of 84. — Brooke Springer photo

Malcolm Pray, pictured here in 2005, by a portrait of his late son Malcolm. A longtime community icon, known just as well for his love of classic cars as his devotion to groups like the Boy Scouts, Mr. Pray died this weekend at the age of 84.
— Brooke Springer photo

Malcolm S. Pray Jr.,  a Greenwich icon who became known for his business success, philanthropy and patriotism died Sunday from complications of a stroke suffered earlier this summer. He was 84.

He is survived by his wife Natalie Pray and three daughters. He was predeceased by his son Malcolm Pray III and by ex-wife Natasha Pray.

Janet Lockton a friend of Mr. Pray’s and a former Republican state representative for the 149th District used six words to describe him.

“He was a true patriot, generous benefactor and an inspirational teacher,” said Ms. Lockton who knew him for 40 years.

A shrewd businessman who started as a car salesman in 1955 with Morlee Motors on the Post Road in Greenwich, he eventually moved into owning dealerships, according to the website Praybodyshop.com.

It was in 1939 that two momentous events shaped Mr. Pray’s life: He moved to Greenwich from New York City and he also attended the New York World’s Fair and fell in love with the Delahaye car, according to the website.

He was in on the ground floor of Audi’s introduction to the U.S. market becoming the first dealer to sign for an Audi franchise. He became the number one Audi dealer for six straight years, according to the website.

But automobiles were more than a business for Mr. Pray, they were his passion. He amassed a large collection of classic automobiles and was proud to show them. That included using them as a teaching experience for city children as he sought to inspire them with his message that you can accomplish what you want through hard work and a positive attitude, Ms. Lockton said.

That message would be delivered at the Pray Achievement Center in Banksville where children could view many of his automobiles and be mentored by him as he urged them to achieve their dreams.

“Children come from the inner city and they are shown the cars and he told them, “that each and every one of you can attain what I have,’” Mr. Lockton said. “He believed in hard work, good manners and pride.”

He often received letters from those children, Ms. Lockton said.

“Children would write letters back to him and he had books made of them,” Ms. Lockton said. “I read some of them and they would bring tears to your eyes.”

Ms. Lockton recalled that her friend was free with his time and generous in his support of many town organizations, such as the Greenwich Boy Scouts, the English Speaking Union association and Republicans and the Republican Party.

“He always had an open home,” she said. “He had all kinds of people at his home.”

Many times the home was used for Republican events as Mr. Pray was a longtime Republican supporter, serving in roles in many local campaigns, including First Selectman Peter Tesei’s. Mr. Pray was honorary chairman of Mr. Tesei’s three successful campaigns and was to fill the same role this year as well. Mr. Tesei told the Post that Mr. Pray was a mentor who gave him the simple advice before each run for office, “Just be yourself.”

“I think Malcolm epitomized the American dream,” Mr. Tesei said. “He aspired to make something of himself and worked hard from the ground up. That example instilled in me the same values that my parents instilled. You have to work hard to make something of yourself and that was what he was all about. He was able to set an example for the community through his generosity and his work with our town’s youth.”

His political activities were joined with his pride in the country said Ms. Lockton.

“He was very connected to the history of our town and the history of the country,” Ms. Lockton said. “He has always treasured his country.”

Mr. Tesei added that this was very inspiring and that he could always count on Mr. Pray, who served in the United States Air Force, to be a big part of the town’s Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and Fourth of July ceremonies,

Livvy Floren, Ms. Lockton’s successor in the 149th District, said Mr. Pray’s death is a tremendous loss to the community.

“I am going to miss him on a personal level and the town and state are going to miss him,” she said.

Ms. Floren said she first met Mr. Pray shortly after moving to Greenwich about 40 years ago. She was hired to do public relations as Mr. Pray, along with fellow businessmen Peter Pauley and Roger Wrather, spearheaded an ultimately unsuccessful effort to either restore the Pickwick Arms Hotel at the top of Greenwich Avenue or, failing that, to keep the site as open space.

The hotel was demolished in 1972 and the site was developed for offices.

“I always admired his advocacy and his energy,” she said. “He was very forward looking and positive.”

She described him as someone who was open and honest in his interactions with others.

“I always said, ‘what you see is what you get,’ “ Ms. Floren said. “He was very open and above board, friendly with nothing to hide and terrific with everyone.”

She said his “sense of humanity,” was a hallmark of him.

“I think it was his sense of humanity and a sense of caring and it cut across all social levels and income levels,” she said.

Ms. Lockton agreed with Ms. Floren on Mr. Pray’s ability to make and retain friends and was always struck by the wide circle of people that he called friends.

“He has so many friends. You could put your finger on any page in the phone book and probably find a friend of Malcolm’s. He always had interesting people to dinner and interesting dinner conversations.”

Ms. Lockton said Pray always tried to see the best in people.

“Seldom did he say anything negative about anything. He was always very positive,” she said.

Ms. Lockton said she is still shocked with his passing.

“I just can’t believe he is gone. What he did with young people was amazing. He inspired them. He has done so much.”

His life was also marked by tragedy as his son, Malcolm Pray III, died after his car crashed into a stone wall on North Street in 1986. Mr. Pray built the Malcolm S. Pray III Memorial Building meeting hall at the Boy Scout Reservation on Riversville Road in tribute to him.

Joan Caldwell first met Mr. Pray during the summers of her college years when she participated in car rallies in Greenwich and Westchester County. They were acquaintances who later became friends, Ms. Caldwell said.

“He was fun. He was intense when it came to business, but he liked to have fun,” Ms. Caldwell said. “He was marvelous with people, you could hear the laugh, it was a contagious laugh.”

Mr. Pray was one of those people who left a large mark on the community, often without people being fully aware of it, Ms. Caldwell said.

“The loss of Malcolm Pray is just monumental as far as I am concerned,” she said. “I imagine him sitting up in the pearly gates. God knows, he deserved it.”

Mr. Pray struggled with dyslexia as a child and never graduated from college. However, he had a strong self belief and ability to work well with others and after a four-year stint in the Air Force he returned to Greenwich in 1955 determined to make his mark in business.

In 2005 he told the Post that he was faced with a decision “to get on a train and go to New York and get a job and be a little fish in a big sea or … do something else.”

“I never gamble, but I gambled on myself,” he said, of his decision to take a job at a small foreign luxury auto dealership, which he later bought.

He built his business slowly, and at the time he sold it in 1999 he had 250 employees and four dealerships: Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen and Infiniti. Mr. Pray was one of the founding members of the American International Automobile Dealers Association and AIADA’s president from 1973-1974.

He was chairman of the National Volkswagen Dealer Council from 1969-70; chairman of the National Porsche Audi Dealer Council from 1971-76; and president of the Connecticut Volkswagen Dealers Association in 1972; president of the Greenwich Automobile Dealers Association from 1962-65 and 1990-1999.

But Mr. Pray downplayed the link between money and being considered a success in life.

“Money is not success. People say, ‘That’s easy for you to say because obviously you’ve got it,’ but I have millionaire friends who wonder what happened to their lives,” he said in 2005.

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