- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2000

It was a sight that would have quickened the pulse of automobile enthusiast Douglass R. Hayes Jr. of Falls Church, Va. a procession of gleaming Packards rolling through the streets of Arlington, Va.

But cherry red, black and aqua Packards were assembled yesterday to honor Mr. Hayes, who died on Friday at age 54 after a protracted battle against liver cancer.

Mr. Hayes had requested that his body be driven to its final resting place in a 1952 Packard hearse, one of the nine Packards in his cherished collection.

"He was a Virginia gentleman, and the Packard automobile was built for gentlemen. The two go together," Arlington resident Peter Vliet, 46, said yesterday at the Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington.

Fellow members of the Packards Virginia club, which Mr. Hayes co-founded in 1976, paid tribute to their friend by driving their Packards behind the hearse.

The caravan totaled 14 Packards in all, a stream of glinting chrome and fat whitewall tires. The procession included a Packard flower car, built with a large open bed for floral arrangements and a stretch limousine built upon a Packard chassis. About 50 people took part in the funeral.

During the ceremony, a string of speakers recalled Mr. Hayes' love for all things mechanical, from cameras to trains scale and full-sized. A few speakers said they had grown up around Mr. Hayes; others noted they were half his age but shared his affinity for classic roadsters.

"He was 'the' Packard man," said Richard Cates, 60, of Stafford, Va., director of the Packards Virginia club. "There isn't much he couldn't tell you about them."

Tom Bradley, 52, of Fairfax Station recalled Mr. Hayes reminiscing over their teen-age days together at a Prince William County car show last year. The pair spent a chunk of their formative years drag racing along Falls Church roads.

"That's where his love for cars started, as a teen," Mr. Bradley said.

Those assembled for the service at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington agreed that the only passion that eclipsed Mr. Hayes' love of Packards was his devotion to his wife, Rebecca.

The couple had no children.

Longtime friend and Alexandria resident Paul Delaney, 56, said Mr. Hayes decided about a year ago that he wanted his final ride to be in his Packard hearse.

However, Mr. Hayes hadn't acquired it for that purpose. "He bought that out of his wacky sense of humor," said second-cousin Bradford Smith, 57, of Portland, Maine.

Mr. Hayes co-founded Packards Virginia around 1976, one of three area clubs devoted to the luxurious carriages of yore.

Yesterday's Packard procession mirrored Mr. Hayes' oversized persona, his friends said, adding that Mr. Hayes, who stood 6-foot-8, had a heart that was larger than life.

"He was very welcoming for people coming into the hobby," said Mr. Delaney.

Mr. Delaney recalled his friend's "long, hard fight with cancer," saying it never dented his irrepressible spirit. "He bore it with an extraordinary kind of dignity."

Mr. Hayes retired in December after working more than two decades as an engineering technician at the solar-monitoring lab in the Smithsonian Institution's Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md.

In his final year, Mr. Hayes was elbow deep in work, restoring a circa 1930 Packard that he had initially picked up for parts.

The Packard Corp. was founded in 1899 in Warren, Ohio, and moved to Detroit in 1903, said Mr. Delaney. It stopped producing cars in 1956.

"It was the premier American luxury carmaker … driven by presidents and the very wealthy," he said.

The car manufacturer played a role in air battles during World War II: U.S. and British fighter planes powered by Packard engines helped turn the tide of the conflict, said Mr. Delaney. The engines allowed Allied forces to escort bombers flying into German territory.

After the war, General Motors ran roughshod over the automobile industry, including Packard, though the luxury cars kept rolling off the assembly line through 1956.

"There's always been a huge following for the car," said Mr. Delaney, who estimated that local collectors own a total of a few hundred Packards.

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