Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Rodney Starkey chokes up a bit when asked about his mother.

Beverly Starkey, who was called “Little Mama,” stood 4-foot-11, and her kids say she was a ball of energy.

She worked for Auto Convoy until she retired, but she also worked at Starkey’s Service Center on West Davis at Kings Highway up until five or six years ago, when she became physically unable. She died in her Oak Cliff home this past summer.

Her husband, George Starkey, opened Starkey’s 51 years ago, and it’s still in the family. Their son Rodney Starkey now owns and operates it.

There were four Starkey siblings, and they all grew up in Pleasant Grove and worked in the family businesses at the same time. Three of them became mechanics, and one, Susan Starkey, was cashier/office manager for decades. Her brother David Starkey was the lead mechanic at Starkey’s for many years. Neighbors may remember him as the big guy who wore shorts and tube socks in any weather. But he died suddenly of a heart attack in November 2018.

That was only the latest tragedy the Starkey family has endured over the decades.

Rodney Starkey lost his son Rodney Starkey II, who the family called Little Rodney, in 1989. The 13-year-old eighth-grader was walking home from what was then John B. Hood middle school when teenage boys drove by in a truck and threw a crescent wrench at his head. Little Rodney was an honor student and played the clarinet. His mom, Linda, was active in the PTA. She died of breast cancer in 2009. Rodney and Linda’s elder son, Shaun Starkey, died in a car crash in 2015 at age 46.

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Susan Starkey’s only son, Stephen Middleton, died in a shooting in 2004, when he was 26.

All of George and Beverly’s grandchildren are gone.

“It’s part of life,” Rodney Starkey says. “If you believe what I believe, that’s when the party starts, when you leave this world. I’ve been able to make peace with a lot of stuff like that.”

He spends one morning a week at a school in Forney mentoring students through Men of Honor. Otherwise, he arrives at the garage at 8 a.m., and he’s working to update and improve Starkey’s so that it could be here another 50 years.

When Starkey’s first opened in 1968, the block was busy with shoppers at Hodges Super Market across the street, and you could still get a full-service fill-up at Starkey’s.

The latter was true until about 1992.

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

At one point, the family owned two other Starkey’s, one where there’s now a carwash near Country Burger on Hampton Road, and one on Beckley and Colorado. They also had a U-Haul rental place on Zang at Davis, where the old Sonic was torn down for apartments.

David Starkey, although he was the younger brother, always handled the business side of Starkey’s. After he died, Rodney had to figure out how to do it on his own.

He found a mentor in the Automotive Training Institute, which has taught him basic things like keeping a customer database.

“We’re making plans to stay here,” he says.

Starkey’s recently signed a five-year lease, after many years of going month-to-month, with an option for a second five-year lease. The building dates back to about 1950 and was originally a Sinclair filling station.

“The little ol’ lady who owned the place never would sell it,” Rodney Starkey says of the building. “She and my dad were real good friends, and her wish was that we get to stay here. Her son has honored that wish.”

Susan Starkey started hanging around her folks’ place on Waverly Drive after her son died and eventually moved in to help her parents at the end of their lives.

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

She’s a talented singer who leads praise and worship at Calvary Baptist Church. And she still lives in her parents’ old house. She hosted a small Thanksgiving dinner there in November for her two living siblings and a few friends.

“We’re all in recovery,” she says. “Because we all used to drink. Without the Lord, we wouldn’t be here.”

Beverly Starkey’s children gathered at her bedside when she was dying, singing songs and sharing stories.

One of their songs was “Four Feet Eleven” by the Christian singer Evie: “I’m 4 feet 11, I’m going to heaven, and that makes me feel 10 feet tall.”