In Memoriam: Jack Pohanka

It is with sadness and a profound sense of reflection that WANADA reports the passing of its longtime dealer member and past chairman, John J. Pohanka of Pohanka Automotive. He was 92 years old.

Automotive News did a video tribute to Jack as part of their morning news update on Tuesday; you can view the video here.

Words that first come to mind when thinking about Jack Pohanka’s remarkably stellar auto dealer career are innovatorpace-setterindustry leader, and Renaissance Man. Clearly, Jack was all of these and so much more. Building on the Oldsmobile dealership opened by his father, Frank Pohanka, in Washington, D.C. in 1919, Jack took over the business in 1960, moving the store subsequently to Marlow Heights, Md., where it operated for many years. Since then, Jack and his son Geoff Pohanka, along with partner Scott Crabtree, have grown Pohanka Oldsmobile into Pohanka Automotive, which today boasts nearly a dozen franchises in 16 separate dealership locations, employing over 1,600 staff, in Maryland, Virginia and, more recently, Texas.

Early on in his career, Jack became a staunch proponent of professional training for dealership personnel. This was dramatically evidenced by his founding of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) in the mid-1970s, which, in turn, established Technician Certification that has been the  industry’s benchmark for high quality auto repair for consumers ever since. Shortly thereafter, Jack marshalled the development of the National Automobile Technician Education Foundation (NATEF), which since then has evaluated and certified curricula for automotive technician training and education industrywide.

A dealer association leader extraordinaire, Jack chaired WANADA in the late 1960s, going on to chair the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in the mid-1970s. A chairman of The Washington Auto Show in the 1960s, Jack later led WANADA’s effort to restore the Auto Show in D.C., after a 13 year hiatus, by making it the public show event that opened the Washington Convention Center (WCC) in 1983, and, subsequently, WCC’s grand successor center opening in 2003. Today, The Washington Auto Show is widely regarded as one of the preeminent annual auto shows on the international industry circuit.

A graduate of Princeton University, Jack has been honored in his career as the TIME Magazine Dealer of the Year, national winner. In addition, Jack was the recipient of the Automotive Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Citation. More recently, he received special recognition by the Washington National Opera, at a special event honoring him at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he has been a years-long WNO leader and supporter.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic shutting down societal interaction across the U.S. and the world, funeral arrangements have not been made. When that happens, WANADA will publish them.

To Geoff Pohanka and Jack’s many friends and family members, WANADA extends its sincerest sympathy.

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