While leading a special board for NADA, Mallon had the idea to start a charitable foundation. Dealers "were doing all these wonderful things but not getting any national recognition for it," Mallon told Automotive News late last year. "NADA was certainly big enough to get a foundation going."
In 1975, the National Automobile Dealers Charitable Foundation was born. Mallon was its only chairman until 2016, when he became chairman emeritus.
"Unlike some great athletes who try to do it all themselves, Bob wanted all of us to be active team players," Tim Smith, a BMW dealer from Calabasas, Calif., wrote in a letter to Automotive News. "He asked for our commitment with persistence, with humor, with energy, with eloquence, and, above all, with respect. There will not be another like him."
Because of the sheer force of Mallon's personality, dealers say, the foundation grew.
With the support of the foundation's board of trustees, Mallon spearheaded several programs, funds, grants and scholarships, including the Ambassadors Program, which collects donations that benefit local communities, the Emergency Relief Fund to help dealership employees recover after disasters and the Survivors Relief Fund, which distributed scholarships to children of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Shau-wai Lam, chairman emeritus of DCH Auto Group, was impressed when he heard Mallon pitch the foundation at an NADA convention.
"This is what we were going to do anyways, and to do it through the NADCF would help to build a more critical mass to show that the auto dealers care about the community," Lam said.
After testing the Ambassadors Program with one of the DCH dealerships, Lam said the program spread throughout the group. In the end, DCH committed all 32 dealerships to be ambassadors. Their involvement continues to this day, even after Lithia Motors acquired the group in 2014.
The foundation has donated more than $13 million to education, health care and emergency relief.
"Bob's legacy lives on in our dealer community," 2017 NADA Chairman Mark Scarpelli said in a statement. "His passion and dedication to the automobile business was unwavering through his decades-long service to advancing dealers and the goodwill that they do every day in their businesses."
Bruce Kelleher, a retired NADA executive, worked closely with Mallon for 45 years. He said Mallon's gregariousness and habit for recollection allowed him to move seamlessly between bureaucratic and retail spheres.
"You were always given the impression that he had literally thousands of friends around the United States," Kelleher said. "But you also had the impression when you were talking to him, face-to-face, that you were the most important person at that time."
He said though Mallon acted as an ambassador for the organization, traveling around the country and promoting the foundation, his roots remained in the state of Washington.
"He would never miss the opportunity to voice his opinion on Washington, D.C.," Kelleher said. "He didn't always agree with what was going on in Capitol Hill, and he would always throw in a little zinger that he was not from Washington, D.C., but the 'real' Washington."
Mallon loved puns. He would fire off "speed" memos, signed with his initials, RPM (get it?), to the dealers in his state to keep them abreast of NADA's activities.