Paul Conte, a World War II veteran who ran a successful Freeport Cadillac dealership for nearly 40 years, died Jan. 1 at his Garden City home, his family said.
Conte, who had heart problems, was 93.
When he was a child, Conte’s family moved from Brooklyn to Rockville Centre, where he attended South Side High School. He later studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and at Texas A&M University.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Conte returned to New York and took an entry-level job as a porter at a Brooklyn car dealership. He graduated to other jobs in car sales, including as a mechanic and salesman, before opening his own Cadillac dealership in Freeport in 1979.
Paul Conte Cadillac grew to become one of the most recognizable and successful car dealerships on Long Island, with newspaper, television, radio and billboard advertisements urging prospective car buyers to come in and have “coffee with Conte.”
“His customer satisfaction was his No. 1 thing. That was the most important thing. He didn’t ever want a customer to be unhappy,” Conte’s daughter, Carolyn Sheehy, of Massapequa, said. “If any problem came up, he wanted it dealt with immediately.”
Longtime business associate and family friend Michael Zack said Conte was “Cadillac through and through” — often wearing a tie emblazoned with the carmaker’s logo and displaying various sales awards pins on his lapel. Zack said he tried to provide the same level of excellence in dealing with his customers that he believed Cadillac provided in its driving experience.
“He was a real gentleman car dealer,” Zack said. “A rare breed.”
Paul Conte Cadillac remains in business. Conte also previously owned a Chevrolet dealership in Freeport.
Relatives said Conte also was involved in the Atlantic Beach Club, where he had been a member since he was 16, and various charitable organizations. He also loved a good joke, relatives said — often asking others to write down a quip so he could share it with others.
“Paul was fortunate to live a good life, and gracious enough to ensure his life was also worthy of being remembered by those he helped,” his family said in a statement.
Conte is predeceased by his wife, Hope, and son Brian. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services were held at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Garden City last weekend. He was buried at Locust Valley Cemetery. Conte’s family said donations can be made to the American Heart Association.