Published: January 24, 2017
SANTA ANA, CALIF. – The antiques trade lost one of its true originals on January 12 with the passing of Don Presley, principal auctioneer and owner of Don Presley Auction Co. Don had fought a long and courageous battle against cancer, vowing he would “never give up without one heck of a good fight.” He was 71 years old.
Donald Ray Presley was born in Shawnee, Okla., on May 14, 1945. He was the son of Cynthia and George Presley, Oklahomans who moved their family to Midway City, Calif., in the 1950s.
Don’s first jobs were working in construction and at Gotham Steel. After being injured in a forklift accident at the steel plant, Don underwent major back surgery and spent much of his lengthy recovery time in bed. According to family lore, while recuperating, Don became infatuated with an audiotape someone gave him of an auctioneer conducting a sale. He listened intently, mimicking what he heard, and soon developed a cadence of his own. According to his wife Kimberly, Don “got the bug, then and there.”
In the beginning of his new career, Don called auctions for free to build up experience. Later, as his reputation grew, he was paid a flat fee for his services.
From 1998 through 2012, Don ran his own company, Don Presley Auction Co., from a gallery on West Katella Avenue in Orange, Calif. Presley’s sales were known for their welcoming atmosphere, catered Mexican feasts and Presley himself, whose lively auctioneering style was punctuated by his quick wit and engaging Oklahoma drawl. When Don Presley Auctions relocated in 2014 to its current venue on South Main Street in Santa Ana, the company’s loyal clientele followed.
Don’s friendly rivals often scratched their heads in amazement over the way he was able to get into Beverly Hills and Newport Beach mansions to secure consignments. Those closest to him explained that it was because he had kept the same friends he knew from his youth. Many were sons of immigrants who had arrived in California with very little money, but as adults they had become wealthy from building successful businesses. Whenever they wanted to sell art or downsize their holdings, they would call Don.
Any Don Presley auction typically contained high-end European decorative art, furniture and clocks, but through his Hollywood contacts, Don was also entrusted with celebrity items. Over the years he sold an antique clock that belonged to Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra’s monogrammed shirt and a personal ensemble worn by Marilyn Monroe. However, when it came to attracting publicity, nothing topped the “LaffBox,” a device containing a library of canned laughs and audience applause used during the production of I Love Lucy and many other popular sitcoms of the 1950s through 1970s. “People came in off the street just to test out the LaffBox during the preview. We had a lot of fun with it,” Don told a reporter in 2011.
Because of his reputation for bringing personality to the podium, Don was a popular guest on television shows. He made multiple appearances on A&E’s Storage Wars and auctioned properties on HGTV’s Flip or Flop. Additionally, his auctions were filmed onsite by the History Channel and other networks.
Don was an active member of the Los Angeles Al Malaika Shriners, whose mission is to raise funds for Shriners International’s 22 hospitals throughout the United States. Don considered charitable pursuits and fundraising projects “an integral part of [his] company’s mission” and made sure his auction-house services were available to any worthy cause.
Don loved nothing more than to escape to the west coast of Mexico, where he spent each vacation day, from sunrise to sunset, on a fishing boat in Pacific waters. As he approached the end of his life, he promised one close friend he would “not catch all the fish in Heaven,” but leave some behind for others.
Don is survived by his wife Kimberly, brothers Steven and Ted, and his wife Tangie, sister Janice, son Don Jr and his wife Lauren, daughter Tiffany Presley Mancao, stepdaughter Aubree Clayton, grandsons Joey and DJ Presley, granddaughters Priscilla Mancao and Betty Lou Horrigan, great-grandson Blake Horrigan, and great-granddaughter Hailey-Jo Horrigan. He was predeceased by his brother Robert Presley.
Per Don’s wishes, there were no formal services. Instead, there will be a party for his many friends in the antiques and auction trade. Charitable donations in Don’s name may be made to the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.
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