Nobody could make John Patrick Winston turn off liturgical music before it ended -- it was his passion and his devotion -- and that is how it was on the night he was killed.

His wife, Jeanni, and her mother, Jeanni O'Neil, climbed out of the car while he stayed in the dark with his music. The two women went up the patio, then the rear stairs, and into the house.

"And then when I realized, in just a few minutes, very few minutes, very few seconds, that John wasn't there, I felt very strange. John should be here by now," Jeanni Winston said yesterday.

"And then I heard the sounds."

The sounds were followed by shots. In the brief time they were apart, John Winston, 63, had been mortally wounded during an apparent robbery attempt.

Just what led to the shooting Saturday night outside the house on Chevy Chase Circle in Northwest Washington is a mystery -- his wife says he never would have resisted -- and police are not saying whether anything was taken from Winston.

Yesterday, the National Automobile Dealers Association, for which Winston had been an attorney since 1959, announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

The reward, one of the highest in the District in recent times, was authorized Monday during the association's quarterly meeting in Tucson. As executive director for the association's office of corporate secretary, Winston had been scheduled to attend the meeting.

The reward is one of many tributes extended in memory of Winston, a man described as the spiritual center of the family -- "caretaker of the Winston souls," his wife called him. His death, which shocked residents on a block just steps from the Maryland line, remains incomprehensible to colleagues.

"It's difficult to express how shocked we are," said Mary Beth Robinson, director of public relations for the 20,000-member association. "He was just one of the most humane individuals you would want to meet."

The neighbors, the gardener, the mailman, people who did not know him well but who remembered his kindness have felt a need to console the family, his wife said. Donald Richetti, the president of the Automotive Hall of Fame, wrote to say Winston made him feel "important and special," even though they were casual acquaintances.

"The 'goodness' of his character was a model for all men. His passing makes me sad. The circumstances infuriate me," he wrote.

Born in Manchester, N.H., Winston was in the Pacific during the waning years of World War II and later graduated summa cum laude from Manhattan College in New York. He received his law degree from Georgetown University in 1950 and joined the Automobile Dealers Association in 1959. He was appointed general counsel in 1972 and, in 1980, executive director in the office of corporate secretary.

Jeanni Winston said her husband, a deeply religious man, would remember the birthdays of their four children, John Patrick Jr., Jeanni Marie, Tara Ann and Mara Pirette, by association -- he knew which saint was commemorated on each day.

If he was killed during a robbery attempt, Jeanni Winston is certain her husband's nature would have prevented him from resisting. "He was just a very gentle man," she said.

The $50,000 offered by the association is the largest reward in at least a decade and one of the largest in recent memory. In 1974, there was a $50,000 reward in the shooting of Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss.), which eventually went to three people whose information led to the arrest and conviction of two assailants. And in 1971, Congress, using private donations, offered $100,000 after a bomb was set off in the Capitol.

Anyone with information on the Winston case may call the police department's Crime Solvers unit at 202-393-2222 or the metro area Crime Solvers at 1-800-673-2777.