Hortense McQuarrie Odlum

Obituary: New York Times, January 13, 1970

"Hortense Odlum of Bonwit Teller: Head of Store Here From 1934- 1944 is Dead"

Indio, Calif. Jan 12 (1970) (AP) Hortense Odlum, former president of Bonwit Teller, the specialty store, died here today. She was 78 years old.

After being hospitalized in New York, Mrs. Odlum was brought to California by her son, Bruce. She had been bed-ridden for three years with advanced arterial sclerosis.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two sisters, Zella Walker of Ogden, Utah and Anne Hatch of New York and four grandchildren.

As the first woman to head one of New York's leading emporiums of style, Mrs. Odlum stressed "high class, but not high hat."

When she retired as president of Bonwit Teller in 1940 after six years as its president, Mrs. Odlum said that "dollars and cents will never mean much to me except as evidence of customer approval."

Taking over from Paul Bonwit, the store's founder, Mrs. Odlum was credited last night by Mildred Custin, the present president of the 13-store chain, which is now owned by Genesco Inc, with being largely responsible for the store's major "resurgence" as a leading fashion showcase.

When she entered the previously all-male executive echelon in the market - since followed by Miss Custin, Geraldine Stutz of Henri Bendel's and the later Dorothy Shaver of Lord & Taylor - Mrs. Odlum defended her lack of business experience at the time by stating that "I got mine in the hardest of schools. For nearly 12 years, I ...was just a customer."

Mrs. Odlum who was Bonwit's chairman from 1940-1944, shied away from the business aspects of her trade. On her retirement, she said, "I want to go back and be what I really am - just the typical customer who has found a store she loves to shop in."

Born in St. George, Utah, Hortense McQuarrie was married to Floyd B Odlum when he was a law clerk. Mr. Odlum became president of Atlas Corporation, which took over Bonwit Teller in 1934. Mrs. Odlum maintained that "I was forced to take the job."

At the main store, at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, Mrs. Odlum was confronted with enormous financial problems bordering on bankruptcy. However, within her first two years, the volume of business doubled, and during the third it trebled. She made major rearrangements of boutiques and salons, introduced a bright, cheerful decor and focused on customer relations.

Reflecting several years ago on her career, she said, "I worked like a Trojan. But I never intended to stay. I'm out now and the whole thing leaves me cold."

Mrs. Odlum was divorced from Mr. Odlum in 1935. She later was married to Dr. Porfirio Dominici. That marriage was annulled in 1938.

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