Sidney H. Kress rarely let an opportunity pass him by.
When his brother-in-law helped him buy a Cadillac to start a limousine service in the late 1950s, Kress built the business into a multi-vehicle fleet that catered to movie stars, television personalities, top-drawing music groups, White House officials, ambassadors and foreign dignitaries.
In the 1970s, he began operating his limo service from the Watergate Hotel, where simultaneously he ran the lobby newsstand and gift shop. The 1972 break-in and scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation made Watergate a household word across the country. It was very bad news for the national body politic, but it was extremely good news for Kress's business. With help from his wife, Sylvia, Kress created and sold Watergate coasters, a ceramic elephant with a bug on its backside, a children's coloring book featuring some of the key Watergate figures and other Watergate-themed knickknacks.
Just about anything with the word Watergate printed on it, they discovered, sold like hotcakes.
But it was driving, and the people he met along the way, that gave Sidney Kress his biggest smile. He kept in his wallet a picture of a room in his Silver Spring house where more than 100 photos of his celebrity customers cover the walls.
The floor-to-ceiling display offers an abbreviated appraisal of a career that lasted 20 years, until he officially hung up his black chauffeur's hat in the late 1970s.
Until then, his appointment book listed the likes of Anthony Quinn, Telly Savalas, Burt Reynolds, Pearl Bailey, Evel Knievel, Jamie Farr, Sonny and Cher, the Jackson Five, the Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald and Ashford and Simpson.
Affable and easygoing, Kress could joke around with the likes of sportscaster Howard Cosell and comedian Don Rickles, whose autographed photo salutes Kress as the "best wheelman ever."
Paul Kress described his father as someone who "could strike up a conversation with anyone, whether they were a member of a royal family or a guy who picks up the trash in the morning. . . . His view was everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time."
The elder Kress, who died at his home Jan. 17, loved to tell stories. In his 85 years, he accumulated many. He could talk about the time he shared ice cream sundaes with Jerry Lewis or the times he found himself in the midst of high-speed presidential motorcades en route to or from Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. This was always tough for a by-the-book driver who, his family said, never got a speeding ticket.
His many stories about Washington history enhanced his popularity as a driver. In a deep, booming voice, he talked about local landmarks, when they were built and what they looked like inside. Much of this knowledge he acquired in his early years as a part-time taxi driver.
Of all his passengers, one stood out: Sammy Davis Jr. After driving Davis around Washington, Kress began handing out wrapped hard candies in a personalized and symbolic acknowledgement of Davis's 1972 pop hit "The Candy Man." In time, Kress himself became known as "Candy Man." Tellers at his bank called him that, as did customers at the Hecht store at Wheaton Plaza, where he worked part time in retirement.
Alongside the candies in his pocket, he kept a small notebook in which he recorded important dates: the birthdays of his three children, when his sons got their dogs and notes for a book he hoped to write.
After retiring as a chauffeur, Kress continued to operate the newsstand and gift shop at the Watergate, where in June 1972 the arrest of five men caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters touched off a political scandal that took years to unravel.
He owned and operated the newsstand until the late 1980s, arriving at dawn each morning to unload the newspapers he would sell that day.
Kress was born in Detroit, where his father, a recent European Jewish immigrant, lost his job as a junkyard businessman during the Depression. Kress's parents moved the family to Washington, where he saw them work day and night to rebuild their lives. They bought a small grocery store at Ninth and N streets NE. They opened their second store at First and O streets NE, and a third on Spring Road NW. Kress, along with two adopted brothers and two older sisters, helped in the stores, stocking shelves, cleaning floors and waiting on customers.
"His big thing was America," Paul Kress said. "For years, I would tell him: 'Buy a Toyota Camry. Here's all the research showing it's a great car.' He wouldn't have anything to do with it. It was America first. He drove a Ford Taurus. He loved this country and what you could make out of your opportunities."