Stuart Cavender, the car and truck dealer known throughout Central Texas for his commercials with George Strait, died last Tuesday. He was 63.
Cavender Chevrolet, his dealership in Boerne that he took over in 1997, sold thousands upon thousands of the vehicles on San Antonio roads today.
Notably plainspoken, Cavender came from car dealership royalty. His grandfather opened an Oldsmobile dealership in downtown San Antonio in 1939 that eventually spawned two family-owned networks of car dealerships stretching out over a hundred miles from San Antonio.
Cavender attracted widespread attention to his own dealership in the mid-2000s, when he hired county music superstar George Strait as his pitchman. The partnership, which began after Cavender volunteered two trucks to use as prizes in Strait’s annual cattle roping competition at his Rose Palace, came to nearly define the business in the eyes of the public.
Cavender and Strait appeared alongside each other in dozens of commercials on television and radio. Cavender sponsored Strait’s concerts, and Strait’s music played when callers to the dealership were put on hold.
In one television commercial, preserved in a 2007 YouTube upload, Cavender and the country star sit in front of a ranch home wearing cowboy hats. Cavender tells Strait how his popular song titles can describe the dealership.
“Amarillo by Morning,” Strait’s 1983 cover of Terry Stafford’s classic, “because our vehicles will get you where you’re going,” Cavender says. He continues: the 1994 single “Easy Come, Easy Go” because “it’s easy to get to the Cavender Chevrolet and go home in a new car or truck.”
Strait shakes his head, “Stuart, I’ll keep selling the songs, you just keep selling the Chevys.”
Each year, seven to eight commercials were filmed in a single day. They would start early in the morning and end late at night, with a catering truck brought in to feed the crew. Between spots, Cavender and Strait would relax in Strait’s tour bus.
“They got to be good friends,” said Cavender’s brother Bobby Cavender at the Tuesday funeral, which Strait attended.
Cavender’s friendliness was a central part of his appeal, contributing to his success in the auto business.
“He never met a stranger,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Knowlton of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where Cavender was a lifelong member.
“He’s just a people person, and this business is all about relationships,” said his son Lee Cavender.
Growing up, he said his father was constantly recognized by friends and acquaintances when the family would go out to eat at Paesanos. “It was like we were playing musical chairs,” he said. “We’d stand up and sit down so many times to say ‘hi’ to someone at dinner.”
Cavender was a member of a number of social clubs and organizations, including the Argyle, the San Antonio Country Club, Club Giraud, the Texas Cavaliers, the Order of the Alamo, the San Antonio German Club, and the Merry Knights of King William.
Cavender took over the Boerne auto dealership in 1997, when he and Bobby Cavender bought it from another family. Cavender, who had been working at the family’s downtown Cadillac dealership, took the lead in developing the business, located far on the frontier of San Antonio’s car market.
“It was a whole new world out there,” Lee Cavender said.
The purchase also gave the family’s dealership empire its first truck franchise – a necessity if they wanted to be “serious in this business,” Stuart Cavender told the San Antonio Business Journal at the time. Newspaper advertisement he took out at the time promoted deals like a used Chevrolet C1500 truck for $15,900.
He went on to serve on the Chevrolet National Dealer Council.
Cavender attended Alamo Heights High School and the University of Texas at Austin, where he met his wife, Allyson Patton Cavender. They celebrated their 39th anniversary last November.
His death last week came after a years-long battle with a rare neurological disorder, originally misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.
He is survived by his mother, Betty Cavender; his wife, Allyson Cavender; two brothers, Billy and Bobby Cavender; his three children, Blake, Southy, and Lee Cavender; Lee’s wife, Catriona Cavender; and a granddaughter, Clara Cavender.
Lee Cavender will take over the Cavender Chevrolet dealership in Boerne.