ROBERT JOHN KAMINSKY
1937 to 2021
Upbeat and bigger than life
Robert John Kaminsky—a man whose passionate drive to succeed in the auto industry was driven as much by early sibling rivalry as it was to provide the finest money could buy for his wife and children—passed away at Scripps Memorial Hospital, in La Jolla, CA, on July 11, 2021, his family at his side. He was 83.
In his younger days, Robert, or Bob as he was called, drew people like a magnet. His upbeat, bigger-than-life personality proved an invaluable trait for a man who began as a car salesman and progressed to managing multiple dealerships, eventually purchasing one of his own: Toyota of El Cajon. Under Bob’s stewardship, Kaminsky Toyota of El Cajon went on to accumulate numerous accolades and awards.
One of five children, Bob was born September 26, 1937, in Bridgeport, CT, to Stella Rose Kaminsky and Watson Walter Kaminsky, a Regional Sales Manager for Dupont. Raised a devout Roman Catholic, he attended St Peter’s Grade School, Kirkwood, MO, and St. Monica’s Catholic High School in Santa Monica, CA.
Left to his own resources
Sandwiched between two, close-knit, older brothers and a younger brother and sister, Bob was the proverbial middle child, often left to his own resources. His brothers deep into school sports, he thrived on hunting solo for quail, rabbits, and birds. And fishing—whether in oceans, lakes, or streams—proved a lifelong pursuit that would later result in multiple trips to Alaska to fish for salmon.
As Bob’s father progressed up the ladder at DuPont, the family moved numerous times: from Bridgeport to Kirkwood, MO to Bay Village, OH and to Pacific Palisades, CA. The children were on a tight leash, church every Sunday, service as altar boys, close attention to grades.
When his mother once asked Bob why he couldn’t be the student his brothers were, he didn’t say much; just knew instinctively he was going to work his butt off to outshine his siblings. And so he did, beyond anything he could have imagined.
In 1955, following graduation from high school, Bob joined the US Marine Corps, spending six months on active duty in San Diego and five years as a reservist. In 1958, he got a job at a Volkswagen/Porsche dealership where he worked until 1965 when Howard Keyes hired him to manage Keyes Toyota of Van Nuys.
Smitten from the start
It was at Toyota where he met Kim Gregory, a beautiful, no-nonsense blonde, who was subbing in the business office. Smitten from the start, the fun-loving, 6-foot-3 Kaminsky, accustomed to winning people over with ease, found it was much harder to seal the deal with headstrong Kim.
He would later say that Kim grew even more headstrong as she got older while adding that she was “the strength in my life. She kept me on the straight and narrow.” Kim was also the person in charge of the family finances, her keen investing sense helping to multiply their worth.
Bob’s perseverance in the rocky courtship period paid off, and he and Kim were married by a Justice of the Peace on August 9, 1971, in Calabasas, CA. Two sons followed, Greg in 1972 and Gary in 1974. By then the family was living in Encino, and Bob’s career was taking off.
A Toyota sales manager, then general manager, Bob helped Keyes expand the business to fourteen dealerships, some shares of which he owned. In 1990, when the opportunity arose to buy a Toyota dealership of his own in the San Diego area, Bob not only consulted his financially savvy wife but his two sons.
Since the boys were still in high school, and all their friends were in Los Angeles, Bob worried they would be against the move down south. It helped that the Kaminskys decided to retain their LA home long enough for their sons to graduate high school.
The role of a curmudgeon
Greg and Gary’s warm relationship with their father can’t be overestimated—unless you asked Bob late in life. Playing the role of a curmudgeon, he would bemoan his role as a father and a husband, blaming his deficiencies on “working all the time.” He couldn’t comprehend how friends and associates could repeatedly claim that his sons idolized him “when I did nothing to cause them to.”
True, in the first years of owning his own dealership, Bob lived in an apartment in San Diego and commuted home on weekends. But he had always worked impossibly long hours, that old need to achieve spurring him on. As to the way his sons turned out, he awarded all the credit to his wife. “Kim was the driving force,” he would say.
And, yes, Bob may have been absent a lot when the boys were growing up, but he was also responsible, with help from his financially shrewd wife, to provide his family with a fabulous lifestyle, vacation homes in Arrowhead, Palm Springs, and Hawaii. For the Kaminsky sons, there was snow skiing, waterskiing, swimming, boating, and a first-rate education at USC.
And the pièce de résistance, a Mediterranean-style home off the golf course in breathtaking Rancho Santa Fe, an affluent area high above the sea, about 25 miles north of San Diego.
There are also plenty of dad/son stories, like Greg’s trips to Alaska with Bob to fish for salmon every year for 15 years. “He is a great guy,” Greg said, “big personality, a storyteller, and he’ll know everybody.”
Eating rattlesnakes, grasshoppers, and lizards
Gary Kaminsky relates a hilarious anecdote about his dad taking him to a survival camp when he was about 14.
“It was really a tough deal,” Gary said. Ten-mile hikes, making do in the wild, eating rattlesnake, grasshoppers, and lizards. “Dad was out of shape, totally dying.” At one point, Bob pleaded with his son to leave. “I refused,” Gary chuckled. Bob persevered.
Perhaps the high point came when Greg and Gary graduated from USC and Bob invited them to join him in the dealership and eventually assume ownership. Currently, Greg is president of Kaminsky Toyota of El Cajon, and Gary is general manager.
“Dad was incredibly supportive,” Gary said in talking about going to work for his father. “He was ready to retire. But he did make me general manager before I was ready.” When Gary questioned the decision, Bob said, “You’ll grow into it.”
He was also very fair, Greg said. He turned the management over to both sons, saying “It is now your business to run.”
Bob made up for a lot of his perceived deficiencies with his five grandchildren. One prerequisite, birthdays were always celebrated at Benihanas. He would arrange for two tables to face each other so the kids could marvel at the Japanese chef flipping Hibachi shrimp and chicken on the flaming grill at the tables. “The best part,” Bob once said, “is they get to order whatever they want.”
And there were the splendid Christmases in the Kaminsky’s condo on the big island of Hawaii, elaborate holiday dinners, tons of gifts, Easter Egg Hunts in Rancho Santa Fe, the grandkids parading their Halloween costumes before trick-or-treating…
Rather than accept kudos for any of it, Bob would only say, “We tried to give them (his own children as well as his grandchildren) all those pleasures.”
6-foot-3 to 5-foot-11
Ill health took its toll on Bob, two knee replacements, a hip replacement, hearing problems, and his spine “crunching down” lowered him from 6-foot-3 to 5-foot-11. There was depression, a gene, perhaps handed down from his mother. Depression was responsible for the loss of his oldest brother, a surgeon, and cancer felled another.
All that said, Bob never lost his sense of humor. Asked what he wanted inscribed on his tombstone, he would quip, “I told you I was sick!”
Still, Bob thoroughly enjoyed coffee every morning with his collection of Rancho Santa Fe buddies at a coffee shop on the main drag. “Not the fancy coffee shop,” he would stress. Only drawback: his friends talked politics too much, his least favorite subject.
An avid reader, Bob could spend six hours a day reading mystery stories on his Kindle. Wasn’t much of a TV watcher, though. But there were conversations with his sons, either in person or on the phone, every single day.
On one of Gary’s last conversations with his dad, Bob told his son, “You have to take care of your mom.” He loved her, Gary said, and wanted to make sure we looked after her after he was gone.
Predeceased by brothers Walter Watson, Carl Mark Kaminsky, and Thomas Richard Kaminsky, Bob is survived by [his wife Kim Kaminsky]; son Greg Kaminsky (Lynde), grandchildren Cole Gregory, Connor James, & Kylie Grace; son Gary Kaminsky (Nikola), grandchildren Ella Grace & Anna Sophie—all of Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Also his sister Patricia Ann McLaughlin (Robert) of Florida.
Memorial services will be private.