Q+A: Nancy LeMay

Meet the co-founder of LeMay — America’s Car Museum and the LeMay Collections at Marymount

Born in her grandmother’s home in 1936 and raised in the tiny logging town of Porter, Washington, the highlight of Nancy LeMay’s life was seeing her family each week at the white-steepled church located at the end of a dead-end road. Little did she know, a suggestion from a friend would end up changing the course of her life forever.

“I bowled with a girlfriend, and her husband was in city government in Aberdeen,” LeMay said. “One day, she told me there was someone she wanted me to meet.”

Soon after, she began dating Harold LeMay, owner of the garbage company that serviced the city of Aberdeen. “He’d go to the council meetings every Wednesday, and we would meet up afterward,” she added.

They tied the knot in 1963, and more than five decades later, LeMay and her family continue to carry out a vast legacy built by the couple, including two vintage automobile museums and countless other collections of memorabilia on display at facilities in the area. 

LeMay moved to Spanaway Lake after Harold passed away in 2008, and she shared with us how his legacy has continued.

What do you love most about the area you live in?

We’re kind of in the country here. It’s quiet, and though it’s changed over the years, I like it. When we came here, I could walk to the grocery store, and we found a church we liked. Of course, it was much different then. It could be pitch black, and I could walk from our C Street house to my office without a worry.

You carried on the family waste management business when your husband passed. Was that a difficult transition for you?

When I first started working at the waste management business, I was answering phones, but Harold and I always worked closely together. There were only two others in the office, and it evolved to over 525 employees with five locations, all with terrific managers who treated the business like their own. One day, I asked Harold who he’d want to be the CEO of the businesses. “Well, you, of course,” he said. “Who else would do it?”

When I decided to sell the waste management business in 2008, we were up to 575 employees. I met with all the kids for their input, and we decided to sell and pick the best buyer together. Waste Connections was run by the man who’d started it and did a good job. One of the last employees we hired just retired from his company this June.

I never regretted selling, but I loved it when I ran it, because I could walk a block to work.

You and Harold were collectors all your lives. His passion was automobiles. What did you collect?

When I was a small child, we were very poor, but you could get these tiny dolls at the grocery store, so that’s what I collected. They fit into a shoe box and were up in an old trunk in my mother’s attic until the house burned down.

While Harold was collecting cars, he went to every swap meet and auction, so I decided to collect dolls. I still like the small dolls the best. I’ve ended up with somewhere around 2,000 in my collection.

My son still collects the cars. He goes to the auctions to ensure there are new automobiles to show at our two museums.

Are you pleased with the progress that has been made to honor your late husband’s legacy?

The two museums are so different. The museum downtown has many employees, and both have excellent volunteers that can do anything. I think Harold would be pleased with that. Quite a few of our family members help — some aren’t around here, or they’re in school, or they work. Harold always felt he was quite blessed to have such an involved family.

What influences have family members had in carrying forward your stories and legacies?

Our family has been so influential. They really love their father/grandfather, and when they think of the cars, they think of him. We’ve all done a pretty good job of keeping it together. Of course, the museums are owned by the public, but it’s been the heart’s desire of the family to keep it all going. We have 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, and they’re all vested from their hearts. Most of them have been on trips with Harold where they bought a car from somewhere out of the area.

You’ve seen a lot of history happen in the world. As an entrepreneur, enthusiast, and philanthropist, what do you hope the future will hold for generations beyond yours?

In the sticks, nobody had a radio, so you didn’t get much on the war. At the end of World War II, I still remember the feeling I had when the announcement came over the radio at my uncle’s house. The war was over, and it was so phenomenal to hear it!

I think technology is fantastic, but now, it’s all so instant. Daily, we know what’s going on everywhere. I find it fascinating that within seconds any news goes around the world. I suspect it’s good, but it’s a little quick for me.

My hope is for everyone to have a purpose, good family relations, education to a point, a relationship with a church — a basis to live by.

For the world, everybody hopes for peace.  

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