It Takes A Village: Ray Ciccolo Knows About Giving Back

4/30/2007

On a trip to France years ago, Ray Ciccolo '59 found himself stuck in a small town on a rainy day without his wallet, passport, money—or his umbrella. With no ID and only the clothes on his back, Ciccolo couldn’t get help from a bank or American Express office. Since he didn’t speak French, he was handicapped finding assistance elsewhere.

Ciccolo is not someone who lacks resourcefulness. He’s the owner and CEO of the Village Automotive Group, which includes the largest Volvo, Saab, Cadillac, and Hummer dealerships in New England. He also runs Ciccolo Property Trusts, a real estate development company in the Greater Boston area. His entire life stands out as a record of achievement through hard work and self-reliance.

But that day in France, he was just a stranded tourist without options—until a stranger overheard Ciccolo’s story and, guiding him to an ATM, handed him enough money to make it through the day. “Through his broken English he said, ‘The same thing happened to me in Italy, and an American gave me money,’” Ciccolo recounts. “And here he was giving it back many years later.”

The gesture echoed advice Ciccolo got from his father that he has tried to follow in life and business: always treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s the same generous spirit that inspired Ciccolo to establish a Centennial Scholarship at Suffolk this fall. His remarkable $100,000 gift honors Suffolk’s past through a named scholarship that will provide critical financial aid to its future students.

For a man who worked and paid his own way through college, the Centennial Scholarship is a perfect way to give back. “I had the most menial jobs anybody could have,” he says. “I worked at the Ritz-Carlton as a bottle breaker. All I did was break glass whiskey bottles into a big barrel.”

While other students did their homework and got a good night’s sleep, Ciccolo returned home late at night exhausted from his job as a human trash compactor, covered in glass and smelling of liquor. Keeping up in school was a challenge, to say the least—and he hopes his gift will enable someone like him to make it through college. “My experience taught me to see the positives in the kids whose circumstances are different,” Ciccolo said.

Ciccolo didn’t let his circumstances hold him back. After Suffolk, he sold a stake in a laundromat to purchase a failing Newton car dealership that he transformed over the next five decades into a New England leader. Today, his business is known for both its cars and its strong family values.

And now, after working hard to get through school, Ciccolo finds that success at work has led him back to Suffolk. In addition to endowing the scholarship, he’s a member of the University’s new Board of Visitors, and he recently presented a case study on Village Automotive Group to a class at the Sawyer Business School. “That’s a lot of fun,” he says.

In 2007, Village Automotive’s Volvo and Saab businesses are each celebrating their 50th birthdays. Naturally, philanthropy features prominently in Ciccolo’s plans to commemorate the twin milestones, including a new program that will encourage teens to work hard in high school by offering them a chance to win a car.

“It’s a great way to go through life,” Ciccolo says of giving back. “No matter what happens to you, you’ll always be happy.”


 

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