HARISSONBURG, VA – Past National Auto Auction Association (NAAA) President James H. “Jim” Wheatley passed away Oct. 18, in Harrisonburg, Va. He was 75. Wheatley, along with his wife Barbara, was a respected and beloved figure in the association since joining in 1970, remaining active up until his recent struggle with cancer.
During a career in the automotive industry spanning more than 50 years, Wheatley volunteered on numerous NAAA committees, served as president from 1987-1988, and later took on the role of association secretary. He received recognition for his tireless efforts and accomplishments when named to the NAAA Hall of Fame in 1994.
Wheatley made many significant contributions to the association in a variety of areas, from administration and management to promotion and fundraising. He played an instrumental role in the publication of the full-color, coffee-table book, “A Retrospective,” commemorating NAAA’s 50th anniversary. But his real lasting legacy is the Warren Young, Sr., Scholastic Foundation.
The Wheatley’s, with fellow members Henry and Patty Stanley, were vital in establishing NAAA’s education fund, organizing the silent auctions at the conferences for its support. Now marking its fifth anniversary, the Scholastic Foundation awards $40,000 annually in scholarships and has helped 50 deserving students from the NAAA family pursue their dreams of a higher education.
A native Virginian, born March 7, 1934, Wheatley displayed the qualities of a true Virginia gentleman of service and commitment to community throughout his life, according to the NAAA. After graduating from the University of Richmond in 1956, he served a year as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and then as captain in the Reserves until 1964. In 1990, he became chairman of the board of the Rockingham Heritage Bank. In addition, he gave much of his time to the youth of his community as a Cub Scout master, Boy Scout troop leader, and chairman of the Rockingham/Augusta Area Council Boy Scout Fund Drive. A firm believer in higher education, Wheatley was a director of James Madison University’s Foundation Board and an advisory board member of the JMU School of Business.
Professionally, Wheatley began his automotive industry career in 1957 as a manager with the Ford Motor Company in its Washington, D.C., district sales office. Seven years later he and a partner opened a Ford dealership in Harrisonburg, Va. Then in 1970 when he and his wife Barbara saw the need for an auto auction in their area, they opened the Harrisonburg Auto Auction. They also launched the Wheatley Motor Car Company in 1987. The Wheatley’s sold the auction to General Electric Capital in 1986, which was bought by Manheim in 1991. Throughout the changes in ownership, he remained as general manager with Barbara as assistant general manager. He earned GE’s Summit Club Award two years in a row. Meanwhile they also owned and operated the Wheatley Motor Car Company, started in 1987. The Harrisonburg Chamber of Commerce named Wheatley its “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 1990.
Beside NAAA, Wheatley belonged to other professional industry organizations, with tenures as president of the Southern Auto Auction Association, director of the Virginia Independent Dealer Association, and director of Catrala of Virginia. He was also a member of both the Maryland and Pennsylvania independent dealer associations.
Even with his many business and professional association commitments, Wheatley always found the time for family. He was a devoted husband and father, raising three children — Jim, Bob, and Susan — and enjoying his role as a grandfather. It can be said he performed a similar role as a hard-working, caring father, and, later, a kindhearted and compassionate grandfather for the NAAA. His dynamic energy, loyal support and benevolent spirit will be greatly missed by all our members.