Former Bakersfield businessman Stephen "Steve" Downs, who after moving to the city in the mid-1980s became a prominent local car dealer heavily involved in local charities, has died from melanoma cancer at the age of 64, his family said this week.
Downs died Feb. 4, just four months after selling a pair of local Toyota dealerships he co-owned. He was remembered Thursday as a man with a big heart who supported a number of local causes while also raising professional standards locally and pioneering new-vehicle sales north of town.
"There was nobody that was more compassionate about our community," said John Pitre, chief operating officer of Motor City Buick GMC Lexus.
Downs was a mentor to many who worked as hard as he played. An accomplished fisherman, golfer and motorcycle rider, he gave generously to many local organizations including the ASPCA, Society for Disabled Children, Wounded Warriors and Bakersfield College's automotive program, among many others.
"He had such an impact on so many lives," his daughter, Staci R. Downs, said by email. "He had the hugest heart and was always there when you needed him."
"Many people did not know he was fighting his own battle with melanoma because he never stopped working and putting others first," he said.
Born Oct. 9, 1956 in Raytown, Mo., Downs left school in junior high to give financial help to his single mother. After moving to Bakersfield in 1984, his hard work and talent got him promoted at Bill Wright Toyota, where he met his third wife, Cassie Wright. By 1999 he had purchased the dealership, and later bought Valley Cycle and Motorsports as well.
He later opened North Bakersfield Toyota just south of Merle Haggard Drive, a major move that essentially expanded the area's vehicle-sales industry.
Masoud Bashirtash, part-owner of several local car dealerships, said Downs was a good man who was viewed as influential in Bakersfield business circles despite his preference for privacy.
A good competitor, Downs insisted his peers in the vehicle-sales industry meet high standards, Bashirtash said. He added that Downs was active within the local new-car dealers association.
Downs is survived by his wife, Dawn; children Michael, Traci, Staci, Ross and Savannah; sons-in-law Matt Imbelloni and Cole Sarver; grandsons Cameron Imbelloni, Dominic Risi, Mason Imbelloni and Jason Carlin; stepdaughter Chloe and her husband Cory Beamers and their sons Harrison and Hudson.
A celebration of his life is set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at North Bakersfield Toyota. As part of that, the inaugural Steve Downs Melanoma Foundation Car Show is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds will benefit a clear-the-animal-shelter event at the north Bakersfield dealership, 19651 Industry Parkway Drive.