Mary Kay Founder Dies

mary kay ash 112201 AP

Mary Kay Ash, whose pink Cadillacs and eponymous cosmetics company made her one of the most famous women in American business, died at her home in Dallas on Thursday. She was 83.

Ash, who had been in fragile health in recent years, died of natural causes, Mary Kay Inc. said in a news release.

“The world has lost one of its greatest champions of women and one of the most loving and inspirational business leaders,” said Ash's son, Richard Rogers, who is also co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer at Mary Kay.

Mary Kay Inc. grew from a sales force of 11 in 1963 to more than 750,000 in 37 countries and wholesale revenue of $1.3 billion last year.

“Everyone in the Mary Kay community deeply mourns the loss of our inspirational founder and mentor,” said Tom Whatley, president of global sales.

Ash spent most of her life known simply as “Mary Kay,” one of the most recognizable names in the United States. As Mary Kay Corp.'s founder and chairman emeritus, she inspired devotion from a 400,000-member sales force.

Each year the convention she held in Dallas attracted thousands of saleswoman who paid their own way to hear, cheer and revere their founder.

With hard work, the saleswomen - and occasional salesman - could move through the ranks of the company to earn the prized position of national sales director. The position earns an average of $280,000 each year, leading the company to claim that it has produced more wealthy women then any other company.

“I want you to become the highest-paid women in America,” Ash said in her motivational speeches.

Mary Kay also created an award system designed specifically for women, including such items as mink coats, diamond rings and the famous pink Cadillac.

The compacts and boxes that contained her makeup were also pink, and Ash once owned a pink 19,000-square-foot mansion with a gigantic pink marble bathtub.

Ash's mother worked long hours at a restaurant to support her family, and Ash was married by the age of 17. When the marriage broke up, she found herself a single mother of three children.

She went to work selling household products, and by her second year was named “queen” of sales. But in the early 1960s, the man who had been hired as her assistant was promoted into a position above her at twice her salary.

She quit.

“Those men didn't believe a woman had brain matter at all. I learned back then that as long as men didn't believe women could do anything, women were never going to have a chance,” she told Texas Monthly magazine in 1995.

She formed her own company, where she told employees to put God first, family second, and career third.

“We must figure out how to remain good wives and good mothers while triumphing in the workplace. This is no easy task for the woman who works full-time,” she wrote.

“With your priorities in order, press on, and never look back. May all of your drems come true. You can, indeed, have it all.”

Mary Kay wrote of her life in three books. The most recent “Mary Kay - You Can Have It All” was released in 1995 with proceeds being donated to cancer causes.

The book debuted on the Wall Street Journal best seller list of nonfiction and general interest titles and moved to No. 1 for a short time.


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