Obituary: Jerry Piper, 60, Owner of Laguna Auto Parts

The longtime Laguna Beach shop owner is remembered for his generosity.

Jerry Piper, longtime owner of Laguna Auto Parts, died Thursday evening after suffering a heart attack at his store Dec. 10. He was 60.

Piper was a close friend to many in Laguna Beach for decades. Born in San Clemente, he eventually took over the downtown business his father established on Broadway in the 1960s.

"This is a big shock for everybody," said longtime friend and fishing buddy Steven Battaglia, who built a makeshift memorial to Piper that's currently set up in the small lot behind the store at 1796 S. Coast Hwy., with candles and objects reflecting Piper's many interests, including hunting, fishing, diving, and honey-making. There's also a Christmas tree decorated with empty cans of Piper's favorite brand, Miller Genuine Draft.

A handwritten card left on the memorial included several comments from friends, one of which read, "We lost a solid rock of Laguna - Jerry, you will be missed!"

"He was probably the best guy in the whole world," continues Battaglia. "He took care of people and was always helping people. There was never a problem with money. If somebody came in and they needed brakes but didn't have money, he would tell them to pay him later, and then teach them how to put brakes on. He was always giving like that, he gave you everything you wanted. Now we’re all screwed—we have all these old cars and we can’t fix them without Jerry!"

Laguna Auto Parts employee Greg Etter knew Piper for 18 years.

"If you needed money, he loaned you money," Etter recalls. "If you were short, it was always, 'Pay me when you come back next time.'"

Battaglia remembers a recent incident that reflects how Piper was a different style of businessman.

"This guy comes in, and he has this can of motor oil from 20 years ago he bought at the store—he knew the date because it has the sticker on it still. He says he doesn't have any use for this oil, and can he get his money back, and Jerry says 'Oh yeah, sure,' and he gives him his money back! I couldn’t believe he did that, but that was Jerry. Everybody loves him, and still will. He’s a legend."

"Jerry would change your windshield wipers for you in the rain, for free," recalls Blair McManus. "And everybody loved his dog. He trained his dog to open his refrigerator, get a beer, and bring it to them."

Laguna Auto Parts was "his place, this is where it was happening," says Battaglia. "We started having fish frys here, and then moved them to Bluebird Park. Last year we had over 200 people come out for the fish fry. Everybody in this town will miss him."

A memorial gathering for Piper is set for this Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m. in Bluebird Park. The public is invited.


Joseph Nicoletti December 18, 2012 at 04:14 PM
HE was my Friend for 35 years,, I and my Family are sad to hear of his Passing, A Great Man & Person ! He'll be missed .. the "NIcoletti" Family ,Laguna Beach,CA !,... !,....
Joseph Nicoletti December 18, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Jerry knew more about People and cars than most People I've ever met !,.. and He Cared about what you Wanted and Truly was a Good Man !,...............
howard metz December 18, 2012 at 05:21 PM
jerry always had a big smile ....we'd always talk about jeep jamboree and when to buy elsewhere if i'd get a better price. i always felt at home n his shops over the years with my old license plates proudly displayed. what a bummer.
jay glass December 18, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Jay Glass Jerry was the best, a part of what made Laguna so special, I will miss him deeply
Monica Jackson December 18, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Jerry did change our windshield wipers in the rain...I love that store and we will miss him. To me he is a reminder of what this town used to be kind, fair, friendly, honest, and just plain decent. Peace and Light Laguna, MJackson
Fernando Micheli December 18, 2012 at 07:31 PM
We didn't know Jerry personally, but were always treated like friends when we went into his shop, asked advice or purchased something only they could provide. A part of what makes a community great are the people like Jerry, so he will be missed.
gilbert December 18, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I remember him from the 80's and 90's. Max Miller and I bought parts from him for the Edsels we would repair. Hope the LORD will accept him.
Bob Fickinger and Sara December 18, 2012 at 09:46 PM
i would see Jerry most every morning at the dog park. I loved to watch his dog LittleBit gracefully jump in the air to catch the frizbee. He loved his dogs, loved life, loved people. He always had a smile on his face. I remember this morning as I was leaving the dog park, saying to myself, I wonder were Jerry is. I haven't seen him all week. You can imagine how shocked I was to receive this email. His poor dogs they're going to be distraught also. GOD BLESS HIM. Bob Fickinger and Sara
Michelle Regnier December 18, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I used to hike and 4x4 in jeeps at Bombay Beach with Jerry and the gang. He always made us laugh, always had a smile on his face and was kind to everyone. Hanging out at the Auto Parts store & having his dog Holly fetch a beer from the fridge was just awesome. This same dog he would hook up to a harness and it would pull us uphill on our hikes or even pull someone on a skimboard down the beach. We even did cadaver search training by hiding out and once he gave the command the dogs would find us within seconds! Jerry had a way with dog training and with people. We all loved him and his family and he was far too full of life to be taken away so soon. We will never forget him...
Kelly Ware December 19, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Kelly Ware I've known Jerry since 7th. grade, we were in Boy Scouts, Explorers, and a lot of other adventures together. I was supposed to be with him that fateful night that Dave B. died when we were 18 years old. He escaped death then and I was hoping god would give him one more chance this time. I got a chance to talk and laugh with Jerry a couple weeks ago talking about the good old days. My dad was also real close to Jerry, they would throw a few back a few times a week. We will miss you Jerry, but I heard my dad pop you a cold St. Pauli Girl when you get there. My family and I want to offer our condolences to all the family members.
john dauss December 19, 2012 at 01:20 AM
I've lost an old friend and I'm saddened.
melanie mcginnis December 19, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I worked for Jerry some time back, for about 10 years. I must say it was the most fun anyone could have had! We had dogs, cats, birds, fish, bees in the window, even a hawk for a day that he brought in that got grazed by a car on his way to work. a few hours later he went and got it some mice, dropped it in the cage and the hawk jumped on it. He said " see she's good to go now" On his way home he released it where he found it and it just flew away. He was one in a million, always up to something, throwing clay pots in the back of the store, or extracting honey in there too.People used to call us and ask if we were the auto parts store with the honey, or the bees or the cat in the window. Always giving, always loving. It was sure an adventure in my life to work for him. No one can ever compare to Jerry's kindness. Sorry to ramble on so much, but I am so going to miss my friend. Love you Jer-Bear. Melanie
Chris Prelitz December 19, 2012 at 03:15 AM
I just 'happened' to be hanging out with Jerry and Susan in the back of the store last week, and Jerry was trying to put up the sails of an old sailboat he had. We worked together on that for a couple hours - great memory of time spent well with a great man. R.I.P. Jerry - You are loved by many in town - you have a heart of gold. - Chris P.
Doris Bender December 19, 2012 at 03:48 AM
I`m sad that just such a wonderful person leaves our planet so early but I know he is in a much better place now...we will celebrate his life!!!!!
Jayna Walker December 19, 2012 at 07:10 AM
I saw Jerry most mornings at the dog park and he had been teaching my dog to catch a frisbee. LittleBit was patient enough to let us steal a few precious minutes of their playtime. Jerry often got sidetracked talking about cleaning & cooking fish for his dogs. The town has lost a man with a heart of gold!
Rich Kane December 19, 2012 at 08:53 AM
These are great comments, everyone, thanks for sharing ...
John Davis December 20, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Sayings I'll miss from JP: “Auto Supply” – the telephone greeting at the store “One Moment” – the “you’re not as important as this paying customer while holding on the telephone” saying “12oz pork chop” – the MGD golden can that’s better than Bud… “Git’em up” – Trigger going for birds or stones through brush and thicket “Wass haaaaappening” – another greeting after a prolonged lack of communication “You’re a fart smeller” – said to anyone who showed prowess in solution provision “Bitchin” – clearly something good just happened!
John Davis December 20, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Other memorabilia I shall miss; Lentil burritos – there’s always one in the shop freezer, easily wrapped in kitchen towel and microwaved for a delicious snack Manifold burritos, the red cooler, dried fruit grown over the fence at home Holly running for a beer out the fridge in the back 74 egg omelettes in the desert made from a bag of very small eggs (home grown eggs) Jerry drawing multiple squares on the back of a used piece of computer print out paper to make his order list for the days parts…”A Dorman this, Interchange that, Standard something else” Bombay Beach, Holy Jim, 22 caliber’s , bailin’ wire, duct tape, jury-rigging-jerry-style ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, dog leashes, business ideas, digital picture frames, more shelf space, more ceiling hooks, more jeans, Dickies, surf boards, skimjoring, the next big thing…. So many millions of fragments of memories… I remember that Jerry was always right...and I I remember laughing when he would beam that big smile and exclaim “You’re my hero!” when I’d done something he liked or found amusing. Well, Mr Piper, that time you were wrong…you are mine. God Bless, RIP, Say hi to Cactus, Holly, your mum and Caputo's boy, Max.... Save me some fish! JD
Rich Kane December 20, 2012 at 01:02 AM
These are awesome, thanks John ...
scott tenney December 20, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Jerry, Hall Herbert and I have been setting up the Apiary at the Bluebird Canyon Farm for the past three years. We called him the "Bee Cowboy" because of his predilection of working without any protective gear (hood, gloves, etc..) and the manner in which he moved among the bees like an ancient honeygatherer the type that you may have seen on some National Geographic special... No fear. Jerry was one of the most real, generous and genuine people I have ever known. A true man's man but a gentleman. Always kind and loving to his family, joyful among animals, good to friends and strangers alike and capable of doing more than just talking despite being a very fine raconteur. I met him nearly 25 years ago and am a better person for having known him. He was a mentor to so many young men and women and set an example that more should seek to emulate. His passing leaves a large void in the heart of our community that will take a long time to fill. Godspeed you on your way. Scott Tenney Laguna Beach California
Don Schultz December 22, 2012 at 03:14 PM
My wife and I live in and own the building across the street from the store. I visited the store regularly and it always reminded me of our own local "Home Improvement" with guys hanging out and the stuff you really need always available. I am shocked and sadden to hear of Jerry's passing. He will be missed in Woods Cove.
cheryl quinn December 26, 2012 at 01:27 PM
On the few occasions that I had the privilege of meeting Jerry he was always very friendly and just a real down to earth kind of guy. He had been a great match for my cousin Jenny and a wonderful father to Dana and Jordan and of course a special grand father to his four beautiful grand children. He will truly be missed by all whose lives he has touched in many ways. My heartfelt sympathy go out to his family and I know you will always cherish the many good memories of Jerry.
John Morreale January 04, 2013 at 06:22 AM
I have been going "down the hill" to see Jerry for over 20 years. Especially when I didn't need any auto parts. Just to go shoot the bull. He always made time for you. He was one of the most honest, caring men that I've ever met. I will miss you Jerry. Put a good word in to the big guy for me. I'll see you again someday. John Morreale
Marc good January 27, 2013 at 03:33 AM
I worked for an other auto parts store in Laguna beach around 16 years ago and we would share parts with lap. I was just a kid driving parts around town and always loved it when I would get to visit with Jerry and Melanie. Jerry rip I will always remember you. Marc
Marc good January 27, 2013 at 04:09 AM
Not 16 years ago. More like 20 now that I think about it. Rip Jerry. Marc good
Darnell Bledsoe April 14, 2013 at 03:26 PM
The obituary for Laguna Beach Auto can now officially be written. As of noon on Saturday 4/13 they locked up for the last time. I went down to pay my respects and take a way a piece of the store, an old saw that was used in the shop. I was the last customer out, and so I saw them all walk out the back door for the last time. I'm sure I felt the spirit of Jerry walk out with them. They all hugged, laughed and cried together. I felt extremely privileged to witness such a precious moment. God Bless Them Everyone! RIP Jerry and his store!


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