By Carol Masshardt
It is rare for a community to have an auto mechanic that seems to be universally trusted, and one in love what he has been doing since the early 1970’s. South Boston can count itself among the lucky with Fran Dempsey of Fran’s Auto Body on 43 Preble St.
“I’m a Southie guy,” said Fran as if this phrase alone told the story of his growing up on L. St., working at “Billy Higgins Exon” and Emerson Auto before opening his own place in 1993. “It’s pretty simple,” he said. “This is my town and I love what I have been doing, and all my customers. I do the right thing and word gets around.”
Now at sixty-eight, a father of four and grandfather, this is not the first time Fran has been singled out. He was awarded an Unsung Hero award some years ago, and he knows, but doesn’t dwell on his outstanding ratings on every known auto repair review site. His customers with cars new and old are treated honestly and as he says services are offered “at a good price.” Quality and price, with concern for customers, are at the core of his business, but there is more.
Fran Dempsey is a beloved boss and neighbor. An employee, Junior, works at one of the two always busy bays, while Fran wrestles with a difficult tire. Junior speaks easily even as he focuses on a mass of auto parts. “Fran, I love the guy, everyone does. He is the best. He knows everyone and everything and is great to work for. He’s honest. How long have I worked here? Not long, just about eight years,” he said.
There have been changes in the community and changes in cars over the years.
“Cars are more complicated,” Fran explained, “but you have more information with computer systems.” The neighborhood has had some stark changes, too. “There are far fewer families and look around,” he said. “It is so different.”
Still, he thinks about cars and the mistakes people make and perhaps always have. “They neglect oil changes, and drive with engine lights on, and drive in overheated cars,” he said, naming but a few preventable repairs. His lot is filled several deep with Chevy’s, Jeep’s Toyota’s and an Audi on an ordinary day.
Fran, married to Maureen, graduated from South Boston High, and played ball at M. St. Park and hockey around town. His memory is sharp and experience with cars is unparalleled. In fact, if he can ever be convinced to retire, he has, along with a family, some antique cars and a Harley just waiting for his attention.
One quality unlikely to ever change is his motivation to “try like crazy to help.” On a given morning he had a thorny damaged tire on the vehicle of a woman needing to get to work, ceaseless phone calls with new jobs needing attention yesterday, and a full lot of cars left in his good hands. His conflict seems more in telling callers to “bring it in tomorrow” when he wishes he could do it immediately.
A neighbor, Roy Henderson, doing some painting, stopped to offer his view, as I wrote this interview on the go as Fran was over and under cars, and talking to waiting customers and his crew.
“I just want to say how much he helps the community. Take me, for example, He gave me this painting job when I didn’t have a dime in my pocket. He gave me work, and he is a wonderful guy. God bless him,” said Henderson.
There is a reason Fran Dempsey earns five stars for services otherwise known to cause stress and dissatisfaction, when we all think our cars should run forever and at minimal expense. There is a reason someone who has known Fran from the old days, or who has moved in last week, or is passing through, notices his physical and mental energy. Meanwhile, he hints at retirement but, fortunately for South Boston people and their cars, it is a passing thought as an over-headed car is towed in.