Dancing in the Sky: Remembering Longtime AASP/NJ Board Member Sam Mikhail

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

Fearless and outspoken. Dedicated and loyal. Passionate and relentless. 

Auto body professionals and friends used these words over and over as they reflected on the legacy and impact left on the industry and their own lives by Sam Mikhail, longtime AASP/NJ Board member, who passed away on March 12 at the age of 80.

“Sam was determined to make the industry better and willing to do whatever was necessary to make that happen,” AASP/NJ Executive Director Charles Bryant shared. “He was dedicated, relentless, direct and to the point, and he was willing to put in whatever effort necessary to accomplish his goals.”

Mikhail immigrated to America from Egypt in 1969 when he was in his mid-20s. He worked as an accountant and auditor for 15 years, obtaining his MBA (Master of Business Administration degree) in accounting and economics before leaving that field to open Prestige Auto Body in Garwood in 1978. He operated his shop for over 40 years until retiring to Florida several years ago.

Bryant “first met Sam so many years ago that I can’t remember exactly when it was! Sam had heard that I could assist him in resolving an issue he was having with a customer he had repaired a vehicle for. My review of the issue revealed that Sam was correct in his position on the dispute; however, it turned out that Sam had a technicality in his paperwork that could cause him to lose, had the issue been presented in a court of law. As such, Sam reluctantly surrendered his position on the repair issue, but then immediately went to work on getting everything to do with his paperwork absolutely correct. Sam was truly grateful for that and has supported me in my efforts ever since.”

AASP/NJ Secretary Thomas Greco (Thomas Greco Publishing) also met Mikhail decades ago, and he remembered being “very intimidated at first, but Sam turned out to be one of those people who was a lion on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside. He was dedicated and loyal and always stood for what he believed in.” 

“Sam was fearless and outspoken; he took a stand for his clients and always wanted to do right by them,” echoed AASP/NJ Collision Director and Past President Jerry McNee (Ultimate Collision Center; Edison), who initially met Mikhail in the 1990s through AASP/NJ. “We met briefly then, but we didn’t really get acquainted until the early 2000s when he called me on a diminished value claim for a repair on a client’s vehicle. That led to a full conversation on our industry’s problems where we learned that we shared many of the same beliefs when it comes to dealing with the challenges faced in the shop.”

“Sam was loaded for bear from the start,” noted AASP/NJ Treasurer Tom Elder (Compact Kars; Clarksburg), who has known Mikhail since 1984 when they met at an association meeting. “He was well-educated and held a master’s degree in accounting, so he subscribed to job costing. The ideas Sam had 40 years ago are still valid today.”

AASP/NJ Past President Jeff McDowell (Leslie’s Auto Body; Fords) met Mikhail around the same time period, and he indicated that Mikhail was a fighter. “Sam was always controversial and had an opinion about almost everything. He was always willing to fight for what was right; Sam was anti-DRP and stood up against insurance abuse. He won many battles over unfair claims handling.”

One of Mikhail’s battles is still raging, in fact, as Prestige Auto Body was one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing putative class action lawsuit against New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance (NJM), which was filed in June 2019 based on allegations that NJM violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the New Jersey Antitrust Act (NJAA) in addition to engaging in tortious interference with the shops involved in the class action. (An update on this case was provided in the March edition of New Jersey Automotive, available online at

“Sam was always and forever pro-body shop,” Greco added. “He fought the insurance companies every day, stood his ground and succeeded. He was a very brave man committed to the industry and to AASP/NJ.”

Mikhail was also committed to Sue, his wife of half a century, who offered a touching tribute to her husband via Facebook. “My beloved husband, Sam Mikhail; may you touch the stars, dance with the angels and feel God’s love. You have been a wonderful husband for 50 years, best friend, my dance partner forever, loving father to our son, Roland Mikhail, brother, brother in law, uncle and friend to many. Your life was a blessing and your memories are a treasure. You’ll be missed beyond measure.”

Mikhail’s passion for life extended beyond the auto body industry to many hobbies, including ballroom dancing, scuba diving, swimming, traveling and kayaking. He served as treasurer of the Jersey Shore Sea Kayaking Association for over a decade, and he was also a member of Business Network International where he imparted his wisdom to others. 

The most valuable thing McNee learned from Mikhail was “integrity, honesty and doing the right thing. Sam taught me that coming to the front line will put a target on your back, and you will be out in front by yourself.” McNee fondly recalled, “During association meetings, Sam would stand up and speak his mind, no matter who was in the room…classic Sam!”

“Sam would rarely make a quick decision,” Bryant weighed in. “He was known to think carefully about any decision he was challenged with, but when Sam made up his mind and took a position on something, Houdini could not convince him to change his position. I always respected Sam for having the strength to never waver from a position he had taken, no matter how hard someone tried to get him to change his mind and reverse his position. He was a strong-willed man.”

Bryant also shared a memory that reinforced his description of Mikhail: “A representative from the county where Prestige Auto Body was located once tried to get Sam to pay a fee for a county permit. Sam explained that he had already paid a fee to the state for the same type of permit and that he was not going to pay twice for the same type of permit; however, the guy from the county was persistent and kept insisting that Sam had no choice. Sam explained over and over, but the guy kept insisting that he had to pay for the county permit, even if he had already paid for the same type of permit from the state.

“You could see that Sam was getting angry and kept saying over and over, ‘I am not going to pay twice for the same thing,’” Bryant continued. “Realizing that the guy from the county just wasn’t getting it, Sam finally said, ‘Let me explain this to you in a manner that you will understand…get the hell off my property now!’ The guy left, Sam never paid the fee, and no one ever challenged his decision after that. I will never forget the look on the guy’s face when Sam made that statement.”

Mikhail’s commitment to doing the right thing ensured that Prestige Auto Body earned a reputation for delivering high-quality repairs that clients could rely on. “His shop did excellent work,” according to Elder. “In fact, Sam was one of the first to reinspect repairs done by other shops to check for safety, quality of repair and compliance with OEM procedures.”

Those reinspections led to one of Elder’s favorite memories of his friend. “A customer hired Sam to reinspect a hard-hit Mercedes that we fixed. I awaited his call patiently. The call came, and I was eager to hear his results. He found a fingerprint in the trunk jamb….and wiped it off!”

As a staunch consumer advocate dedicated to safe and quality repairs, Mikhail was honored with many community service awards over the years, but he was particularly gratified to be inducted into AASP/NJ’s Hall of Fame in 2011. “I am honored and thrilled to receive such a prestigious honor,” Mikhail indicated upon learning of the honor. “It really never crossed my mind. To be acknowledged by my peers this way is very, very gratifying.”

“Sammy has been an incredibly dedicated member to the association for what seems like forever,” McDowell, then president, had stated at the time. “Sam is the kind of guy who is there anytime you need him. I don’t think he’s missed a meeting in decades. Sam’s a fighter. You might not agree with everything he fights for, but you can’t deny that he has been and will always be an asset to our association and our industry. We’re proud to have him in the Hall of Fame. It’s overdue.”

Mikhail served on AASP/NJ’s Board of Directors for three decades, and although he was enjoying his retirement in Florida, he remained in touch with his New Jersey collision repair family and the association. Some of his final Facebook posts included promotions for the NORTHEAST® 2024 Automotive Services Show, and he was still thinking about AASP/NJ during his final weeks spent in the hospital.

“When Sam was in the hospital a few weeks before he passed, he had his wife call Charlie and ask if there were any AASP/NJ documents he had to sign,” Greco shared. “Even in his final days, he was thinking of AASP/NJ. You don’t get more dedicated than that.”

“Sam was a good man,” McDowell added. “It was an honor to serve with him on the Board of the Central Jersey Auto Body Association and AASP/NJ.”

“His passion for this association and our industry were unfaltering,” Elder input. “He taught us all to stick with our programs and never give in! We will all miss him.”

“Sam took a stand for this industry, understood how a business runs and wanted the best for everyone,” McNee agreed. “He came to the front line to help gain back his business, and while others might view him as an outlier, he knew that you either do the right thing or you don’t. Sam had no filter and would call you out if you were doing the wrong thing, instead of hiding in the background. He will surely be missed.”

“Sam was a good man and a great friend,” Bryant chimed in. “Once Sam became your friend, he was a friend forever and would be there for you in a time of need. He will be dearly missed by many.”

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!