If you meet Ava Late at the 14-acre complex of BMW in North Austin, you’ll immediately sense why she’s been so successful. She’s a relationship-builder and her boisterous personality energizes a room. What you might learn, after a long conversation punctuated frequently by her infectious laughter, is her fierce commitment to equality and her un- wavering generosity.
“I’ve never met a stranger! I love experiencing everything and everyone,” Late, a University of Texas alum, said. “I have always wanted all people to be treated fairly and with respect.”
Late, who has been in Austin for more than eight years, is a co-owner of BMW of Austin with her husband of 15 years, Steve, and she manages advertising, marketing and community relations for the business. They live here with their 10-year-old daughter, Olivia. Theirs is a family business that extends back to 1954, when Steve’s father purchased Bronco Chevrolet in Odessa. The store was sold to Steve in 1997; after buying Steve’s family out of the other stores, the couple eventually decided to take ownership of BMW of Austin in partnership with Roger Penske. Last year, they celebrated the opening of their mini cooper franchise store. The family legacy continues with Steve’s son, Christopher, who works as a car sales manager at BMW of Austin .
“When we were doing the closing [the sale of the dealership], there were all those lawyers in here–and I just burst into tears–and they were like, ‘God, what is wrong with her?’ ” Late said. “I was just so happy and so excited.”
Late is someone who speaks her mind. When they were still living in conservative West Texas, she told her husband that she admired the fact that he had a gay son whom he loved so much. “And he goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I said, ‘Blair. He’s gay.’ We had a big sit-down about it.”
“When Ava entered my life, at the age of 12, she was a complete blessing,” said Blair Late, a 28-year-old Los Angeles resident who has worked in the entertainment industry for most of his life. “She took on the role of best friend and mentor. This friendship is what laid the foundation for me to eventually come out at the age of 17.”
Blair attended a musical theater summer camp in up- state new york called Stagedoor Manor. steve and Ava visited to watch him perform the role of the straight, womanizing jock in “Carrie: The Musical.” He came out on the plane ride back to texas and the news was received well by Ava. “The strength and support from Ava over the span of many years eventually grew on my dad, who now is also my biggest supporter.”
“Blair is so gracious to always say that I made his life so easy,” she said. “my whole goal was to empower him. I’ve got a real strong backbone and I’m very protective of family and friends.” Blair visited Austin in September for the UCLA/UT game and spent a week in the capital city. Ava and Steve head to California several times a year to relax, unwind on the beach and reconnect with Blair.
Blair’s sister, Olivia, has also been very supportive of him and his partner, Jeff, and their bond is strong. “We talk to her on the phone weekly on speaker and laugh a lot!” he explained. “She is an angel and I know she is setting an example for other young kids to be more accepting.”
The impetus for Late ’s community outreach and giving spirit comes from her mother, who was involved in a wide range of charities and community organizations and instilled the values of compassion and caregiving in her children. “My mother was just one of the finest mothers you could ever have,” Late said. “She was such a great example.”
Late ’s bond with Blair–combined with the fact that she used to work in the entertainment industry, where gay and lesbian people were her friends and colleagues–made her history of involvement with Austin ’s chapter of the Human Rights Campaign a no-brainer. “I’ve made some wonderful friends who are involved and have chaired [the annual HRC Gala],” she said. “I’ve maintained staying involved because I believe in what they fight for. We always do some sort of partnership.”
Another organization near to her heart is the Alzheimer’s Association Capitol of Texas Chapter. Late ’s father-in-law, who passed away in the fall, had dementia, and her mother- in-law has Alzheimer’s. “It concerns me,” she said, noting her fund-raising role at the organization. “Steve’s uncle had it also. The fortunate thing is that instead of being early onset, it happens at the earliest around the age of 70.”
Her modus operandi–being honest and open in all interactions, consistently giving back to a range of worthy causes in the city and maintaining a fun, professional work environment–has served Late very well. She’s hopeful that the company will continue to prosper and grow, and potentially expand in the future. “We have an incredible team here at BMW and mini that we are so proud of,” she said, noting that the store has won the center of Excellence award for customer service six times. “I remember working from down at the bottom and coming all the way up. it affords me the opportunity to give back to the community and it’s something that we see as a legacy.”