Dorothy K. Brannan, 86, Hess `saleslady' for half a century

March 01, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

During her 56 years selling women's shoes at Hess Shoes, Dorothy Katherine Brannan's winning personality earned her a loyal following and the lasting affection of generations of customers.

Mrs. Brannan, who retired two years ago from the Hess store in Towson Town Center, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at her North Baltimore home. She was 86.

"She was a great and vibrant lady, and so caring. Everyone just loved her," said George B. Hess Jr., retired chairman of Hess Shoes.

Of medium height with carefully coiffed hair and a welcoming smile, Mrs. Brannan began her career selling shoes in Hess' Howard Street store in downtown Baltimore in 1943. She offered the kind of personal service that is rare today, remembering customers' names, shoe sizes and preferred style of footwear.

"Hess had the name in shoes around here. When you bought shoes at Hess, it was a big deal. People went to Howard Street to shop, and they wore gloves and hats. It was special," she told The Sun when she retired.

When Mrs. Brannan transferred to the new Hess store at Belvedere Avenue and York Road, customers followed. In 1969, she moved to Towson Plaza - now Towson Town Center - where customers again followed. She spent the last 30 years of her career there.

In an era of euphemistic job descriptions, Mrs. Brannan insisted on simply being called a "saleslady."

"She was the kind of salesperson the customer always remembered. She was energetic and genuine," Mr. Hess said.

"If a customer called her up and asked about a special pair of shoes and she knew your size, she'd get them and deliver them to their home. She had such loyal customers that when they came to the store, they'd sit and wait until she could wait on them."

Robert H. Brannan of Parkville said of his mother, "She sold like crazy, and she enjoyed it. And because she was so good at it, she won the Golden Shoehorn award presented by the store 10 times."

When Hess, founded in 1872, was closing in 1999, Mrs. Brannan spent the last months of the going-out-of-business sale bidding farewell to her many customers, some of whom had become friends of hers.

"She'd still be there selling if they didn't close," said her son.

For the past two years, Mrs. Brannan volunteered in the gift shop at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Dorothy K. Smith was born in Philadelphia and moved to East Baltimore in 1926. She was a graduate of Eastern High School and worked in sales at Montgomery Ward before joining Hess.

She enjoyed working tabletop puzzles and taking her grandchildren out for breakfast and lunch.

She married Hugh E. "Pat" Brannan, who died in 1986.

Services were held yesterday.

Mrs. Brannan is survived by another son, Timothy C. Brannan of Lutherville; a brother, Robert Smith of High Point, N.C.; two sisters, Ruth Bien of Finksburg and Grayce LaPointe of Holmes Beach, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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