Elaine G. Nichols, 58, entrepreneur

September 22, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Elaine G. Nichols, a leading Maryland businesswoman who with her husband established a miniconglomerate of 30 auto auction, finance and insurance companies, died Monday of cancer at her Annapolis home. She was 58.

Beginning in 1963 after her marriage to Raymond C. Nichols Sr., then a banker with Maryland National Bank, Mrs. Nichols and her husband began developing and acquiring numerous financial and automotive service companies, which evolved into BSCAmerica Cos. Inc.

They began BSCAmerica with $1,000 in capital and a loan of $5,000. "We didn't have a lot of money so we needed to look for a business where we could sell a service," Mr. Nichols told The Sun in a 1997 interview.

She was the founder in 1964 of the Nichols Auction Co. in Baltimore, which became Atlantic Auctions Inc. in 1973. The firm, which auctions commercial real estate and construction equipment, was chosen to liquidate the assets of the failed Old Court Savings and Loan in the 1980s and Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., the defunct Baltimore clothing retailer.

Mrs. Nichols also was a principal or corporate officer in the Bel Air Auto Auction Inc., Banking Services Corp., Financial Conservators Inc. and Lee & Mason of Maryland Inc., the nation's largest writer of residual-value auto insurance for banks.

She was a co-founder and original partner in the International Auto Show and the annual Chesapeake Bay Boat Show.

"She had a great entrepreneurial spirit," said Mr. Nichols, her husband of 37 years. "She was quiet, sincere and extremely tenacious, and ran the businesses with the same exactness that she applied to her own personal checking account."

Mrs. Nichols' philanthropic interests included health-related charities, and educational assistance for needy students.

A conservationist and avid gardener, Mrs. Nichols maintained an Oriental water garden and planted many rare indigenous plants at her 28-acre Annapolis estate overlooking Meredith Creek. She opened the grounds of her home to local garden clubs and their members for study of her gardens and plants.

Mrs. Nichols enjoyed spending time at Mirador, a second home on the Eastern Shore near Berlin.

Born Elaine Grace Gumm in Berlin, Worcester County, she was raised on her family's farm in Showell. A 1959 graduate of Stephen Decatur High School, she attended Southern Seminary in Buena Vista, Va. She began her business career in 1964 as manager of the beauty salon in the Hochschild Kohn department store in downtown Baltimore.

She was a communicant at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and was a member of the Daughters of American Colonists.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at Mirador, 11810 Porfin Drive, Berlin.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Nichols is survived by a son, R. Charles Nichols Jr. of Berlin; a daughter, S. Michelle Nichols Neff of Annapolis; her father, Calvin D. Gumm Jr. of Berlin; two sisters, Theresa Gumm Bruner of Berlin and Carolyn Hudson of Bishopville; and three grandchilden.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Elaine G. Nichols Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 516, Bel Air, Md. 21014.

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