18 May 2015

Margaret Dunning: 1910-2015

Margaret Dunning, the car-loving centenarian who became something of a celebrity and earned the nickname “Belle of the Concours” after showing her 1930 Packard in the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, has died.

Dunning, of Plymouth, Mich., would have celebrated her 105th birthday next month. She died after being injured in a fall while participating in the ELK Charity Challenge, a fundraiser in California that benefits three children’s charities. Earlier in the week, Dunning visited Jay Leno’s extensive car collection, and Leno changed his plans so that he could be there to greet her.

“No matter how many great people you cross paths with, Margaret was one of those extraordinary individuals you meet once in a lifetime,” said automotive writer Michel Lamoureux, who became friends with Dunning several years ago. “One of the most meaningful things she ever told me was that it’s important to savor life in real time – to enjoy what you do while you’re at it.”

Dunning was born June 26, 1910, just a few miles from Henry Ford’s Detroit-area home. Her parents, Charles and Bessie Dunning, told her that Ford would sometimes stop by their farm house to visit, and he once rocked her to sleep. Dunning’s connection to the automotive legend may have been an omen. She said she was a “tomboy” as a kid and served as a “tool chaser” for her car-loving father, who taught her to drive at the age of 8. Dunning earned a driver’s license at 12, and she continued to drive well past her 100th birthday.

(Margaret Dunning: 94 years behind the wheel and counting.)

“Oh, yes, I’ve driven my share, that’s for sure,” Dunning said during a recent interview. “It’s one of my favorite things to do.”

Her favorite car to drive was the cream-colored 1930 Packard 740 Custom Eight Roadster that she purchased in 1949. “I love third gear; the car just sings,” she said. “I’ve never used it as my everyday driver, but I do like to get it out at least once a month. They were made to be driven, you know.”

A successful businesswoman and philanthropist, Dunning helped create the Plymouth Historical Museum. Pam Yockey, museum board president, said Dunning will be missed here and abroad. “Margaret was truly caring, down to earth, unpretentious and giving of her time,” Yockey told hometownlife.com. “She has counted among her friends celebrities, rajas and us. How privileged we have been." (Museum Power)

Dunning had an energetic personality and a keen sense of humor, which made her a popular guest at classic car events across the county. Once asked the secret to her longevity, she said, “I never got married.”

In addition to her prized Packard, Dunning owned a 1931 Model A, ’66 Cadillac DeVille and ’75 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Daniel Clements, son-in-law of Dunning’s best friend, Rachel Churches, maintained her cars and also accompanied her on trips although he joked that Dunning really didn’t need his help. “She’s the Energizer bunny,” he said. (It's a family affair - and then some!)

Dunning was both charming and modest. In fact, after being featured in the New York Times and then honored at Pebble Beach – where she chatted with the likes of Leno, Sir Stirling Moss, Henry Ford III, Edsel Ford II and Arvind Singh Mewar, the Maharana of Udaipur (India) – she said: “A lot of people want to talk to me, but I don’t know why everyone is making a fuss. I just love cars like everybody else.”

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Jim Johnston Springfield, Oregon May 20, 2015 at 16:41
    I have followed her and her story often. A great loss to those who were touched by her story.
  • 2
    Jim Lewis Cleveland OH May 20, 2015 at 17:11
    I remember judging her Packard at a CCCA Grand Classic meet in Dearborn in the mid 1960's. What a beautiful auto and what a terrific lady!
  • 3
    Ronald Wheeler Oregon May 20, 2015 at 17:39
    R.I.P. Margart, you are my kind of woman. Drive the heck out of them up there
  • 4
    Mike Marsh Brandon, MS May 20, 2015 at 18:14
    Just saw her at Keels & Wheels and she was sharp as a tack. Most graceful lady that was a joy to visit with. She will be missed by all that love the art of the automobile like she did!
  • 5
    Tim McManus Denver May 20, 2015 at 18:37
    I so remember her story....classic in every way. RIP my dear and drive your chariot in the sky.
  • 6
    Ed Andrews Las Vegas, NV May 20, 2015 at 21:03
    My hero. She will be missed.
  • 7
    Peter Pleitner Ann Arbor, MI May 20, 2015 at 21:16
    Oh no! But inevitable. I met Margret when Nixon resigned, helped her with her Packard to show it at the CCCA's Grand Classic at Kingswood/Cranbrook and her '53 Cadillac too. She was amazingly knowledgable and capable with her cars - a genuine and unassuming enthusiast.
  • 8
    Rich V Kahalu‘u, Hawaii May 21, 2015 at 01:37
    I did not not Margaret Dunning, but from what I have read and seen about her she is an excellent example of how we may all aspire to live our lives... to the fullest. RIP Ms. Dunning
  • 9
    Ron Hall Houston May 21, 2015 at 18:01
    I met Ms. Dunning at "Keels & Wheels" where she was sitting in her Packard in a line of first place winners awaiting her turn in the presentation tent. I told her I recognized her from u-tube and she graciously invited me to sit in her carand chat when I told her I had a '40 Packard hearse and a '49 Packard woody. She was very sharp and very quick witted Rest in Peace, Ms Dunning
  • 10
    Kevin Oregon May 21, 2015 at 22:41
    As always Hagerty brings the info to us in the car community. Sad news to hear of Margaret Dunning's passing. A genuine life long car enthusiast. I'm sure her spirit will continue to frequent the car shows...especially the misty morns at the Pebble Beach pre-war corral. Peace be with you Ms. Dunning.
  • 11
    Mark Griffith Northville Michigan May 27, 2015 at 10:46
    I just passed the Plymouth, MI historical museum last night and saw there was a memorial service going on. Turns out it was for Margaret. Living just a few miles away, I am sorry not to have known her. Thanks for the article!
  • 12
    Pamela Mettetal Boone Iowa June 12, 2015 at 10:46
    Thank you all for being so kind & gracious to my cousin Margaret Dunning. She will be missed for a very long time & over many miles.....Drive them silly Cuz, RIP Sweetie.......<3
  • 13
    paul kelchner mesa az. June 30, 2015 at 16:35
    I first read about Ms. Dunning in the 90s in a classic cars magazine and was intrigued by her story the hobby lost a grand ole dame!!!!!
  • 14
    William J. Offutt Jr. Frederick, Md. July 3, 2015 at 21:36
    I have a 1955 Packard 400 2 dr. hardtop and read her story in the Packard monthly Bulletin and her life is most unusual. I hope the Packard Club gives an Award for the love of Packards over a long time.

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