David Cleaveland

Obituary of David Vincent Cleaveland

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David Vincent Cleaveland, who owned and operated an independent Volvo repair shop in downtown Portland for 48 years, died Nov. 5, 2023. He was 82.

David was born July 18, 1941, to Dorothy and Vincent Cleaveland in Williston, N.D. When he was 1 year old, the family moved to Vancouver, Wash., where his father had accepted a job as the Clark County Public Utility District’s first electrical engineer. The family lived on West 37th
Street in Vancouver, and the Cleaveland children attended Providence Academy.

In 1951, the family moved to Pumpkin Center, now mostly known as Fisher’s Landing. David’s father and mother had built a house 8 miles from downtown Vancouver. The Cleaveland children grew up there, taking advantage of life in rural Clark County, the Northwest outdoors and
proximity to the majestic Columbia River, where they enjoyed fishing and boating.

Decades later, David and his family felt forever blessed to move into the Fisher’s Landing home.

David graduated from Hudson’s Bay High School in 1959. He went to work for several years as an architect’s draftsman as he thought that that was his career path and, truth be told, he always had a knack for architecture, drafting and visual conceptualization. He spent weekends during
the 1960s serving in the U.S. Army Reserve. He attended Portland State College (now university) from which he graduated with a degree in psychology in 1967. He would later earn a Master of Arts in psychology from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.

In 1966, when he was a student at Portland State, he met Janet Balfour in the college’s cafeteria. He looked at her across the large room and said to himself, “I’m going to marry that girl!” And he did. David and Janet married in 1970, and their first son, Raymond, was born in September
1970. Two other sons would follow — John in 1974 and Ruben in 1976.

In August 1970, David and his brother John started Leyfax Co., a British car-repair shop. With a meager $800 in his pocket and a strong belief that he and John could figure out how to make the business work, David dove into the car-repair business. (He always said he started Leyfax
because there were no jobs in psychology at the time.) Leyfax began in an unheated, ramshackle building of corrugated steel at 415 SW Lincoln in downtown Portland. All they had were a couple of car jacks, a very paltry collection of tools (“Ma’am, we don’t need a lot of tools —
those are all we need”) and their collaborative work sealed by fraternal bonds of affection, a partnership that lasted throughout David’s and John’s lifetimes. 

David and John would go on to help each other with too many projects to name, but we’ll mention just one here: sailing John’s 30-foot ketch, the Westwind, from Portland to Victoria, B.C. David caught a salmon for dinner as they crossed the Columbia Bar. Dana Olsen was also onboard.

At first, Leyfax (which would become David’s alter-ego) specialized in British cars, but during the late 1970s, David and John gradually began to specialize in Volvos, which were becoming prevalent in Portland. They outgrew the building on Southwest Lincoln, so they moved to newer and nicer digs at the corner of Southeast 8 th Avenue and Madison Street. By that time, John was moving on to other projects and business interests, so David ran Leyfax increasingly on his own, but with help from those he hired. Nevertheless, the two brothers remained very close.

David often told stories about his kind and interesting customers, many of whom became close friends. There are too many to name and, if we tried, we would need a full-page ad for this obituary. At the risk of offending some longtime friends by omission, we mention two especially
close couples: Tony and Donna Freeman, who invited the Cleaveland family to potlucks at their house and included them in yearly family backpacking trips to Mount Jefferson; and Dr. Ralph and Charlotte Shambaugh, who shared many meals and outings with David and Janet. However, for everyone else not named, just know this: David told his sons story after story about you, and each of you was dear to him.

During the 1980s, Leyfax grew in prestige and reputation. David never advertised in any way except by word of mouth, and you had to know a current customer to get in. He had customers who drove from as far as Calgary, Alberta; La Grande, Oregon; and the San Juan Islands in
Washington to get their Volvos serviced. Once, a long-time, loyal Portland customer checked into a small, boutique hotel in Ashland. The innkeeper noticed the guest’s Volvo and announced that he drove his Volvo a couple of times a year to the best shop in Portland. The guest said, no, that she patronized the best shop and had done so for many years. It turned out that they were both customers at Leyfax.

Throughout his nearly 50 years of running the garage, he always acted on one key business principle: honesty. It worked. Not only did the customers trust David, but also David trusted them. Most shops make customers pay before they pick up their cars, but David always said,
“Just take it. We’ll send you a bill in the mail.” Very few people stiffed him, and those who did didn’t get a second appointment — they had to settle for the dealers.

Over the years, David and Janet raised their children and built their lives together. As David built his business and Janet settled into a career in journalism, they invested a bit in real estate and enjoyed spending time watching their kids grow up. (The kids, to be sure, gave them some
sleepless nights over the years.) Though David closed Leyfax in 2018 and hung up his wrenches, he remained active in retirement. He was always working on one project or another, whether at the family home, at one of his rental properties, or in the service of a friend or family member.

David’s son John, who worked alongside of him for 20 years at Leyfax, preceded him in death last December. David is survived by Janet, his wife of nearly 54 years; sons, Raymond of Seattle and Ruben (Sheri) of Hood River; two grandchildren, Selah and Benjamin Cleaveland, of Hood
River; siblings, Mary Claire Mangin of Martigues, France, Charles Cleaveland of North Huntingdon, Pa., John A. Cleaveland of Vancouver, and Elizabeth Levine of Reno, Nev.

A Catholic Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in downtown Vancouver, the same church in which he received his First Holy Communion 75 years ago. David will be buried in Vancouver’s historic Fisher’s Cemetery next
to his beloved son John.

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Funeral Mass

10:00 am
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater
218 W 12th St.
Vancouver, Washington, United States
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David Cleaveland

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David Cleaveland

1941 - 2023

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