Mary Ford: An Eye for Quality
Rehoboth Beach resident Mary Ford is a stickler for quality. Whether it’s in the restaurant business, the world of high-tech chemicals, or at her award-winning bed & breakfast, she’s the one keeping a close eye on processes and procedures. Though sometimes she has had to tread a middle path between corporate politics, her kids (and grandkids) and her lesbian lifestyle, Mary approaches it fully armed with her outspoken approach to life.
In the mid-‘70s, after her two daughters were born, Mary came to terms with her sexuality, following her heart (and her first female partner) to Columbus, Ohio where they set up housekeeping. Mary got a job with Lum’s Restaurant (remember them?) and over the next eight years worked her way up from waitress to assistant manager to manager and finally to quality control for the entire restaurant group. One of her most vivid memories of that time is how she came out to her daughter on a family trip to the Michigan Women’s Festival. Olivia Records’ artist Meg Christian had just finished singing “Leaping Lesbians” (from the album Lesbian Concentrate inspired by orange juice queen and bigot of note, Anita Bryant). As the applause died down, Mary’s daughter looked up and asked if mommy was, in fact, one of those very same lesbians who leapt. Mary told her the truth. Apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: The second-grader shrugged it off and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Good things usually come to an end, but in 1986 things were just beginning for the now-single mom. She moved back to Delaware with her kids and took a secretarial job at Dupont. She was soon promoted to the position of Customer Service Representative for the marketing of titanium dioxide, a key component of paint, paper and plastic. Mary worked long hours to ensure that the chemical, often shipped by rail in mega-gallon tanker cars, made it to the right place—on time. In 1992, her unique talents won her the coveted ISO 9000 certification. She was now instrumental in ensuring that the processes for designing and developing the product were performed in a quality manner.
Things weren’t going badly at home either, even for a single mom raising two girls. Mary smiles as she recalls that fateful potluck dinner 21 years ago where she ran into none other than her former high-school gym teacher, Judy Hedrick. The connection was immediate. In sort of a “Brady Bunch” moment (the only thing missing was the theme song and Marcia, Marcia, Marcia), both women—each with her two kids—moved into a mobile home together near Rehoboth.
Mary wasn’t quite finished wowing everybody at Dupont. She received certification as a 6-Sigma “black-belt”; responsible for improving output by identifying and eliminating costly errors in manufacturing. Mary’s knack for quality control saved Dupont almost a million dollars.
In spite of her happy home life, Mary Ford was not officially “out” at work. Office politics and jealousies being what they are, her last two years at Dupont (not to mention her daily commute to Wilmington) became stressful and demanding. No longer living on wheels, Mary and Judy began to explore the possibility of opening a bed & breakfast. Judy ventured, “How hard could it be? You’re from a large family and have done customer service most of your career. And we’ve both been mothers—forever!” In 2003 they took the plunge and bought the old Three Maples Bed & Breakfast. They listed the home they had just recently bought—and sold it the very next day (yes, things like that used to happen long, long ago).
Of course, there was that minor detail of having no business plan and no idea how to pull off a B&B. Anything if not resourceful, Mary and Judy went to the library to read up on how to manage and promote their fledgling business. They enlisted the help of girlfriends far and wide, throwing many a weekend party and handing out paintbrushes, hammers, nails, pizza and cheesesteaks to anyone brave enough to accept their invitations. That was seven years ago.
One of their first business decisions was to not accept children—at least not the human variety. But when dogs, cats, birds (and even the occasional gerbil) feel the need to kick back and get away from it all, they head for The Homestead at Rehoboth. Pets are strongly encouraged to bring their humans along (provided the humans are housetrained). Mary Ford and Judy Hedrick hit on a winning concept: A human-friendly B&B where the humans are permitted to stay right in the same rooms with their beloved pets! Aside from the minor scuffle and an occasional growl (not necessarily from the animals…), things go smoothly.
Mary Ford has come a long way from her secretarial job, thorny office politics and that awful commute. Both grandmothers are now living their dream as proprietors of one of the few places in Rehoboth Beach “where pets bring their parents on vacation.”
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident, He can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.