New car dealers who traced their Southern Nevada roots back generations dominated the business 20 years ago when Daniel Towbin and his family moved here. But Towbin, the second generation of a car dealership family in New Jersey, built an empire and left a legacy of community support.
Towbin, 54, died of a heart attack Thursday night.
Towbin was chairman of Towbin Automotive Enterprises, which owns Towbin Dodge, Towbin Infiniti, Prestige Infiniti, Towbin Motorcars (which sells Rolls-Royces and Bentleys), and the smart center Las Vegas. The stores sell 11,000 cars yearly and employ 600 people. Towbin's wife, Carolynn, succeeds him as chairman.
A native of Lakewood, N.J., Towbin moved his family to Southern Nevada in 1989.
"He started his car dealerships in Las Vegas as one of the first outsiders in our business," said Gary Ackerman, who inherited a car dealership business started by his grandfather, George Gaudin.
Towbin "very quickly became one of us. A lot of his success came from the fact he embraced Las Vegas as a community, not just a business opportunity," Ackerman said.
"He was a great dealer, a good friend," said Greg Heinrich, president of Fairway Chevrolet.
Cliff Findlay, whose father started the family new car dealerships of the same name, remembered Dan Towbin as "very, very passionate about the car business." In community and charity organizations, Towbin always was fully committed, Findlay said.
"If you got him involved, you got 100 percent Dan," he said. "He didn't come halfway."
Dan was proud that his son, Josh, also known as "Chop," did television commercials and appeared in the reality show "King of Cars" on the A&E Network, but the father and son had different personalities.
"Chop is a showman. Dan is more of a behind-the-scenes guy," said friend Tony Bonnici, vice president and general manager of Lotus Broadcasting.
"Dan was a straight shooter. There was no filter on Dan Towbin, and that was a good thing," said Maureen Peckman, chief executive officer of Keep Memory Alive and executive director of the Council for a Better Nevada.
Dan Towbin "would always have a unique perspective on an issue" and didn't mind disagreeing with others, she said.
The elder Towbin "cared about the industry and always was looking at the big picture, not the small picture," said Wayne Frediani, executive director of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association. Dan Towbin served on the association board for eight years.
Towbin won the Time Magazine quality dealership award for Nevada in 2007, was recognized by General Motors as Dealer of the Year and was past president of the Las Vegas New Car Dealers Association.
On work days, Dan Towbin wore three-piece suits, adorned himself with jewelry and drank martinis, Bonnici said. On weekends, however, the elder Towbin retired to his horse ranch east of San Diego and wore boots.
At their last meal together, Bonnici said his friend spoke about great opportunities, rather than the busted economy.
In addition to his wife, Carolynn, he is survived by daughter, Jesika Towbin-Mansour; son, Josh; brother Joel Towbin of Aspen, Colo.; sister, Linda Banker of Princeton, N.J.; and three grandsons.
Services are pending.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at email@example.com or 702-383-0420.