Cleveland businessman Alfred Anderson, affectionately known as Mr. A, died Monday evening at a hospital in the Conroe area. He was 79.
Anderson, owner of Anderson Ford of Cleveland, will be remembered for his contributions to the business communities in Liberty, San Jacinto and Montgomery counties, but for those who were close to him, he will be remembered for his generosity, kindness, integrity and optimism.
He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Dolly, who died in 2017. He leaves behind to mourn his loss four children and their spouses – Sharon and her husband, Mario Garin, of Cleveland, Buck and his wife, Avah, of Cleveland, Jenny Anderson Bennett of Conroe, and Steve Anderson of Cleveland; five surviving grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Anderson joined the Cleveland business community in 2000 when he was tasked with running Greater Cleveland Ford for Tony Gullo, who also owned automobile dealerships in Conroe. In 2001, Anderson purchased the dealership and has been owner-dealer since that time. He shared ownership of the dealership with his late wife.
Sharon said that her father was still grieving the loss of her mother when he passed.
“He was always trying to be strong for us and he did it for as long as he could,” she said.
Anderson originally was from Louisiana and had moved to Texas by way of Louisville, Ky., to manage automobile dealerships. He was born in Shreveport, La., and graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., where he majored in finance.
A self-made man, Anderson knew the value of hard work and entrepreneurship. In Louisiana, he owned several service stations that served as general stores for the communities in which they were located.
“They had a mechanic on duty. The guys pumped gas for the customers. Even before stores turned into convenience stores, Dad crammed as much in his little service stations as he could. There was a toy rack, live crickets and fishing supplies, hot sandwiches, little odds and ends – everything you would find in a general store,” Sharon said. “He sold the basics like bread, cheese and ham. He was a natural-born businessman.”
After starting out at automotive dealerships, then owning the service stations, he found his way back into management at auto dealerships. In the early years, he worked in nearly every position – fleet manager, sales manager, finance director – everything except for service technician.
“We moved from Shreveport to New Orleans where he ran a dealership as the vice president-general manager,” Sharon said.
In Texas, he made his home in Conroe and worked in Cleveland but kept his heart in both communities.
“When we were at the hospital with him last night, I looked around the room at all of us children and a couple of the grandchildren who were there. One thing that struck me is there wasn’t a one of us who he hadn’t helped in some way,” Sharon said. “He was the best. He had the biggest heart. He was our biggest support, literally.”
His benevolence and generosity extended to the community, often without anyone’s knowledge. He was a supporter of Cleveland Senior Citizens Organization, local schools through Drive One 4U, numerous scholarships and Teacher of the Week awards at Cleveland ISD. He served on the Cleveland Economic Development Corporation, was a previous board member and chairman for the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and was a current member of the Rotary Club of Lake Conroe. He previously served on the Unity Committee of Cleveland.
In recent years, he purchased the K-9 officer for Cleveland ISD. Anderson Ford was one of the first businesses to take part in the North Liberty County Relay for Life.
“Anderson Ford was involved in the very first Relay for Life in Cleveland. Dad made his famous pimento cheese. Everybody stopped by to have some of Mr. A’s pimento cheese during the event. He had to make it every single year after that,” Sharon said.
He was a member of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Texas Automobile Dealers Association and the Houston Automobile Dealers Association, and mentored automobile dealers across the southern United States.
Andy Dill, who Anderson brought to Cleveland a few years ago to revive the chamber, says that Anderson should be credited with saving the chamber.
“He did so much behind the scenes and no one ever knew about it. So much of what he did, whether it was Rotary or Chamber, he did it without recognition. He did it because it was the right thing to do,” Dill said. “The chamber was going through some difficult times when I arrived. I was an outsider – the next-door neighbor who had run the chamber in East Montgomery County and retired. He was the glue that held things together for the Cleveland Chamber. He knew how important it was for the community, whether businesses were members or not.”
Dill said Anderson’s legacy will last forever because of the impact he made and the lessons he shared with others of being a leader-servant.
“He will be remembered as a servant-leader. When I met him 23 years ago, we were both volunteering in the Conroe Chamber. We both served as officers of the chamber. During that time, he just gave and gave and gave, not just of his personal time, but he made it available to his staff that they could give as well,” Dill said. “That was a priority to him that everybody in his organization gave back.”
It was through the Cleveland Chamber that J. Rice of Public Management, Inc., got to know Anderson when they served consecutive terms as chairman. Rice said he has never met a better salesman than Anderson, but there was much more to him than his salesmanship.
“He was all about approaching things in a positive way. He truly wanted to better the lives of people. He was an all-around good guy. There is a hole that has been left by his death. I have never known a better benefactor,” Rice said. “He’s one of those guys whose footsteps aren’t filled when they are gone, but he taught a lot of people his ways and they tend to fill the gap when things like this happen, even though it’s never the same.”
Services are pending for Anderson. A memorial service is being planned for the Cleveland area. Sharon said that Anderson will be cremated and his ashes will be spread on a memorial island he helped establish on Lake Conroe.
“That’s where we scattered Mom’s ashes and that’s where Dad will be, too,” she said.
By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org