Tolbert N. Lester Jr. had his favorite car, a 1957 Ford Ranchero, but the Gainesville man was best known for another set of wheels — a maroon Hudson featured in the movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”
He restored the car, which plays a key role in the film, then found himself in the Hollywood limelight. He and his wife, Lucy, and the car’s owner, Herbert Bell, drove the shiny car to the movie premiere in Atlanta, where spotlights were shining and wine was flowing.
“That was kind of living it up for Daddy,” said his daughter, Connie Evans. “He never did things like that.”
Family and friends are remembering the man who, according to his obituary, “could fix anything, build anything and create something whenever needed.”
Lester, who died Tuesday at his home at 80, “was a self-made man,” said his wife. “He was one of a kind.”
An Athens native, he was the youngest of 12 children who “grew up appreciating everything he had or worked for.”
Tolbert and Lucy were married for 60 years. They had four daughters, each taking turns “being his little helper,” his obituary states.
Evans recalled driving her father’s restored vehicles in high school and “loving every minute of it.”
“We would fall in love with a car, then come home one day and it’d be gone,” she said. “Daddy had sold it. He knew what he was doing. He was making money off those cars and we were advertising for him.”
He was the owner of Lester Auto Restoration, starting his business in 1981.
Lester was an honorary member of the Korean War Veterans and a member of the Lanierland Old Car Club, taking his Ranchero to car shows and driving it in the Memorial Day parade.
“He was a fine, fine man and certainly will be missed,” said Lil Smith, the club’s secretary-treasurer.
One thing she particularly remembered about her longtime friend was that he “loved to eat out, but he wanted to eat by 5 p.m.”
“We always had a hard time taking the club to a restaurant,” Smith said. “Usually, we would make reservations for 6:30. By then, Tolbert was just completely bent over from starvation.
“I told him, ‘Anytime you and Lucy come to our house to eat, I’ll be sure the cornbread’s on the table by 5 o’clock,” she said.
Also, every summer, he enjoyed helping his friends host a “BLT” luncheon for anyone who wanted to come.
“He always loved a good joke and was always there to listen or tell you one he had just heard,” his obituary states.
But then, his health began to falter. Lester had congestive heart failure, with his doctor telling Lucy during his hospital stay in July “that he only had months to live,” she said.
Even as his health worsened, he didn’t let his condition affect his spirits.
“If you’d come in to see him ... he’d practically come out of the bed trying to shake your hand,” his wife said. “He was a kind gentleman — he really was.”
A celebration of life service for Lester is set for 11 a.m. Friday at Memorial Park Funeral Home North Riverside Chapel, 989 Riverside Drive, Gainesville.