Richard Dunnigan, a venerable figure in the real estate community who sold homes in Sacramento before World War II and founded one of the capital’s oldest property firms, died Wednesday of complications from a stroke, his son said. He was 101.
Although he sold his namesake business nearly 25 years ago, Mr. Dunnigan was a vital man with a tireless work ethic who continued to show up almost every day at the Dunnigan Realtors office on Freeport Boulevard. His last day at his desk was July 3, the day before he had a stroke.
“He mostly handled his investments, but he also would counsel agents in the office,” his son, Craig, said. “He wanted to be sure they were calling and going out and working with clients, not hiding behind a computer at a desk. Selling homes was all about people for him.”
Mr. Dunnigan endured for almost eight decades in business by being positive, working hard and setting high standards for himself and others. He sold life insurance during the Great Depression and went to work in the late 1930s for Frank McBride Jr., a prominent Sacramento real estate agent.
He took a job during World War II as a wage and salary administrator at the Kaiser shipyards in the Bay Area and rejoined McBride’s agency before starting his own real estate firm in 1951. Along with business partners, he expanded to invest in properties and sell insurance while building his company into one of the top real estate agencies in Sacramento. In 1991, he sold his the firm to one of his agents, Geoff Zimmerman.
“It was important for him to be a boutique professional organization,” said his son, who worked for his father’s firm before going into real estate on his own. “He didn’t want to get too big. He thought that you lose control when you get a lot of agents and you lose clarity about serving the customer.”
Mr. Dunnigan was widely respected in the real estate community. He was chosen president of the Sacramento Board of Realtors in 1957 and was honored by the professional group as 1974 Realtor of the Year.
“He was a giant in the community,” said Judy Thompson, past president of the Sacramento Association of Realtors. “He was responsible for some of the most successful people in real estate in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s who came out of his place and started their own agencies.”
“He was always a gentleman, always well dressed, always had perfect grammar,” she added. “He refused to consider any negative thoughts; he was always positive. He was very disciplined and set high standards. He’d always say, ‘What have you done today?’ ”
Born June 13, 1913, in Los Angeles, Richard Raymond Dunnigan was 5 when his father, a real estate broker, left the family. He grew up with his sister and in San Francisco, where his mother managed an apartment building, and completed a one-year business program at Stanford University to work at the Kaiser shipyard.
His early real estate clients in Sacramento included Dorothy Countryman, a widowed teacher and principal at Sierra Elementary School. They married in 1941, had three children and were together until her death in 2006.
Mr. Dunnigan was a devoted family man and proud patriarch of four generations. Besides reading, he enjoyed listening to classical music and took up golf in his 50s. He belonged to the Masons and the Grandfathers Club.
A man of strong convictions, he was a Christian Scientist who “never set foot in a hospital for himself from the time he was born until he was 93,” his daughter Shelley said. He believed that people should not be defined or judged by age and insisted that family members and friends not acknowledge his birthday.
“He was very passionate about the fact that age was just a number,” his son said. “I’d give him a call on his birthday, and he’d start with, ‘Don’t you even say it.’ ”
Although not a showy person, Mr. Dunnigan enjoyed driving well-built cars and insisted on acquiring a new vehicle every two years. One year, he arrived home with a new Porsche sports car that he described as “royal blue” in color. In fact, because he was red-green color blind, he could not discern that the color actually was “flaming purple,” his daughter said.
“He got so much ribbing about it between the office and home that he kept that one for only two weeks,” she said.
In addition to his children Craig and Shelley, Mr. Dunnigan is survived by another daughter, Patricia Rowley Robertson, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
No service is planned. Memorial donations may be made the Sacramento Association of Realtors’ scholarship program.