Photo provided

Contributed by Preston Charles Funeral Home

James (Jim) Melvin Washington. Photo provided

James (Jim) Melvin Washington, who owned and operated the popular Washington Limousine Service for almost 40 years, died Thursday, August 13, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was 74.

Mr. Washington was born September 30, 1945, in Gordon, Georgian and the son of Donald and Alberta Washington Sr. He graduated from Calhoun Consolidated High School in 1964. 

His early aspirations to become an entrepreneur were sparked by an automobile accident that he witnessed in front of his childhood home.  A funeral car came to retrieve the body, because during those times there were no ambulances.  He was curious and asked if he could ride along. 

As a result, he started volunteering to do small, odd jobs around the funeral home of Whipple & Allen.  This experience planted the seed that birthed his desire to become an entrepreneur and his love of cars. He was able to obtain his driver’s license at age 14, which was under the legal driving limit. Even in his early twenties, he owned his own general store and gas station, where he often employed his siblings. With the desire to fulfill his dream of becoming an undertaker, a chauffeur, and a bus driver, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1969.  He gained experience as a limo and hearse driver for both Pearson-Peoples and Hall & Jordan Funeral homes, while maintaining a full-time job at General Motors.

He was well on his way to meeting his career goals, when he uncovered an opportunity that changed his life drastically.  One night, during a meeting of local funeral home directors, he realized a need for an independent limousine service to help their limited fleets.  That discovery was all it took for the entrepreneur to found Washington Limousine Service in 1972. 

His business started with one vehicle, a black Cadillac limousine, and a second vehicle purchased in 1973.  His biggest break came in the early 1970s, when a Cincinnati Gardens concert promoter began using Washington Limousine Service to pamper visiting rock stars.  Repeat business came pouring in from celebrities who expected only the best service.  The company’s discriminating customer base represented almost 90 percent of the company’s revenues. 

Washington Limousine had the pleasure of transporting celebrities that included Little Richard, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, The Jacksons and countless others. His reputation for providing great service led to the opportunity to serve as the director of transportation for the Cincinnati Music Festival, formally known as the Cincinnati Jazz Festival, a role which he held for over 40 years.

He then became the first African American to win a contract to transport Cincinnati Public School students.  In 1989, he added a travel agency, Silver Coach Tours & Travel. By the end of the 90s, he had established a full-service transportation organization whose goal was to provide excellent service that met all of your transportation needs.    

Mr. Washington was consistently honored and ranked among the largest 15 Greater Cincinnati, minority-owned businesses, which employed the largest number of African Americans within the Cincinnati area. He believed in giving others a seat at the table, and he mentored and helped others to create businesses of their own. In addition, he understood the needs of our community by giving second chances to those who had challenges in finding gainful employment opportunities.  He sponsored complimentary and half-priced trips for various children’s groups on a regular basis, and he provided free transportation to physically disabled citizens to attend the circus each year. Because he was a small business, he listened to the concerns of his employees and offered employee perks such as health insurance, paid time off, and small employee loans.  One of the annual highlights for his employees was Christmas time, which meant a lavish employee Christmas party and bonus.

He served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.  He was also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Association and a “Kentucky Colonel.” He was a Prince Hall Freemason and belonged to the St. John’s Lodge #3 and Sinai Temple #59.  He delighted in meeting weekly with retired professionals known in a group known as The Breakfast Club. 

Although a workaholic, Mr. Washington was an avid sports fan. The Cincinnati Bengals and the Xavier Musketeers Basketball Program were among some of his favorite teams. His physical stature and style were unmistakable, the signature cowboy hat, the larger than life belt buckle, and cowboy boots were often conversation starters.

Mr. Washington was a dedicated and long-standing member of the Allen Temple AME church.  He served on the Board of Trustees in addition to assisting the food pantry and transportation ministries.

He enjoyed spending time with his wife, children, sisters, and extended family.  When they all got together the room was filled with stories, laughter, joy, craziness, and love. 

He was preceded in death by his mother, father, older brother, Donald Washington Jr. and sister Bobbinell Williams. 

He is survived by wife Barbara Shells; sons, Donny Washington (Lutrina), Teddy Weeks (Jennifer), Jarwin Washington, Rahsaan Washington, William Mines, Barry Washington (Ruth), Glenn Williams; daughters, Angela Melton (Brady), Lalita Washington, Domonique Washington King-Carter, Ebony Washington, Ginger Edward (Tony), Adriane Martin; sisters, Mattie Mae Smith, Tommie Jean Frazier, Mary Kitchens, Clara Washington; special nephew Tonnie A. Williams; and a number of other relatives and friends.

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