Mary Magdalene Deuel Mercer, 93, known as "Mae" and widow of former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Chairman Robert E. "Bob" Mercer, died of natural causes at her Akron, Ohio home on Saturday, July 24.
Mae, known for her sense of humor and irrepressible optimism, was active in community circles with the Women's Board of Children's Hospital, the "Keep Akron Beautiful" campaign, and the establishment of the Ronald McDonald House in Akron, a 20-bedroom home-away-from-home for families of patients hospitalized at Akron Children's Hospital.
The former Goodyear chairman, who died last year at the age of 96, often credited his savvy, engaging spouse for any success he had in his 42-year career with the company.
"She didn't hesitate to push me when I needed it," Bob recalled. "Early in my career, stuck in a desk job in Detroit, I thought I wasn't going anywhere. Mae encouraged me to write a letter to the home office in Akron saying if that's all they had for me, I was moving on."
The letter landed him a promotion to a field sales position in Duluth, Minn., where Mae effectively became Bob's business partner, helping him sell v-belts and conveyor belts to mining companies around the vast Mesabi Iron Ore range,
While Bob was on the road, Mae, who had an infant daughter and a son on the way, began taking orders from customers. "There were weeks when she did better than I did," he recalled.
Bob remembered when one customer called in a panic looking to replace a broken multi V-belt drive for a critical pump needed to take water out of a mine. Mae pulled out the engineering book, spec'd the belt and put it on order. "When she told me what happened, I immediately checked the order and she was right on the money," Bob recalled.
"She saved the customer, got the order and changed the diapers."
Mae continued to be a bedrock of support and close advisor during her husband's well-traveled career, from the frontiers of Duluth and Des Moines, amid the glam of L.A., to the Appalachian hills of Cumberland, Md. and finally back to Akron. She orchestrated at least 14 moves and raised five kids.
Mary Magdalene Deuel Mercer was born Sept. 10, 1927, in Philadelphia, to Adeline Lauder Deuel and Curtis Deuel. The family, that included her younger brother Curt, lived in Glen Burnie, Md., where life for Mae and her brother, took a sad and difficult turn. Her father, an architect, died from cancer when Mae was just 8 years old. Sadly, as a young teenager, Mae cared for her young brother, and her Mother through the ravages of cancer.
Following the death of their Mother, Mae and brother, Curt moved in with their grandfather, John "Pop" Lauder, residing in Roselle Park, N.J., and later in Upper Darby, PA.
Mae's move to Roselle Park proved fateful. It was there she met Bob, her future husband, at a dance class. Mae's dance instructor was looking for a few young men to dance with her students and called Bob's mother, who sent him and his twin brother Dick over to join the class.
Mae and Bob bumped into each other again at Roselle Park High when she, a freshman, entered his senior classroom to pick up an attendance sheet. They began dating though Bob had to compete with a long line of other guys who were captivated by Mae's intellect, along with her stunning beauty and dance skills that would give Cyd Charisse a run for her money.
In search of a more challenging curriculum, Mae transferred to Notre Dame Academy for Girls in New Jersey. And later she and young Curt moved to Buffalo, N.Y., to live with Tom and Mary Lauder, her uncle and aunt. In Buffalo she worked as a telephone operator/supervisor and a photographer's assistant, all the while continuing to be courted by Bob.
They were married on July 5, 1947, with the bride wearing a borrowed wedding dress after a house fire just three days earlier destroyed all her belongings. Bob embarked on his Goodyear career as they headed to Akron. Their new home, featuring a small ice box and a hot plate, was in an attic atop an old Diagonal Road mansion which dated back to Akron's Industrial era.
It was an inauspicious start for the couple, but "Mae's unfailing belief that things would only get better has always carried us through tough times," Bob recalled.
They cooked on the attic hot plate only 4 months before Bob was assigned to the Detroit desk that would improbably launch his career.
Mae's quirky sense of humor, empathy, and her ability to put people at ease proved to be an enormous asset in the highly social and pressurized world of corporate life. Her sparkling wit, coupled with uncanny listening and observation skills, enabled her to gracefully fit into any situation she encountered.
Despite the difficulties in her childhood years, or maybe because of them, Mae was forever an optimist. When faced with challenges her mantra was "No problem!", leading her to adopt as a personal anthem the song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.
Mae is survived by five children: Kathleen Bond (James) of Shaker Heights, Ohio; Robert G., (Carol) of Santa Monica, Calif.; Mary Ann John, of Richmond, Va.; Donald, of Wichita, Kan., and John (Vicki) of Akron, Ohio. She is also survived by 10 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. Her brother Curt passed away in 2017.
A private service will be held at St. Mary's Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church and interment at St. Mary's Cemetery on Nantucket Island, where "the island twosome" enjoyed many summers.
Donations in Mae's memory can be made to Akron Children's Hospital, Ronald McDonald House of Akron, and the American Cancer Society Cleveland Hope Lodge.
Special thanks to Denise Tompkin and her wonderful team of caregivers at Golden Years Helping Hand, and Kindred At Home Health-Akron.