Dorothy Sellers, former executive secretary to Seagram chairman, dies at 109

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Like a schoolgirl, Dorothy Sellers had laughed last Christmas wearing pajamas hours before bedtime and sipping liquor by the fire – still young at heart, before she died aged 109 this month.

Sellers died in her sleep on October 6 at her home in Freeport.

She’d moved from a Pennsylvania coal town to the Big Apple during the Great Depression, survived the ‘Mad Men’ era by becoming executive secretary to the chairman of Seagram, and fashioned masterful holiday miniatures that made their way in in the homes of two American presidents. .

She had charted her own path as an independent person, while the country went through two pandemics, two world wars and the explosion of highways, which she considered the greatest invention as it opened the nation up to experience. , said his family.

“She was a Renaissance woman,” said Gretchen Browne, her neighbor of about six decades. “She could do anything. She could talk about anything. She was attractive. She just had everything.

Her wit and warmth gave her so many circles of lifelong friends, those who knew her said. There were the wives of Seagram executives in the Tired Mothers and Others Club (she was the “others”), her LIRR buddies and other friends in what she called the Peanut Butter Club, for whom she made sandwiches. combining his favorite spread with cucumbers. She refused five marriage proposals.

Even though her “original” friends died, her schedule was full, her family said. When she stopped driving at around 100, a taxi company offered free rides. The manager of Trader Joe’s escorted her into the store to show her some new items she might like. Children and grandchildren of longtime friends stayed in touch, remembering her handmade holiday gifts and welcoming traditions of mixed drinks, homemade peanut butter chocolate trifles and parfaits. ice cream with a red ribbon tied around the glass, relatives said.

“Dorothy’s greatest gift was the gift of friendship,” said neighbor Ellen Kelly, a book friend and half of what she and Sellers called Freeport’s smallest book club. “She was someone you wanted to be with because she was positive, fun, and interested in what you were doing.

“She had a full circle of support that allowed her to live alone in her home until the last six months of her life.”

People have often asked about the secret to its longevity, and sellers have never had an answer. “God has forgotten me,” she said. Or she noted: “I woke up this morning. I’m still here.”

“She was totally in love with life,” said her great-niece, Mary Alice Harper of Austin, Texas. “She had this incredible inner energy. It was really rare to see her exhausted.

Sellers was born on September 18, 1913, and she had a privileged start with her parents and older sister in a home known as the “showplace” in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. His father had a plumbing and heating business in a booming town producing coke, a high-carbon fuel used to make steel, from coal. Childhood was filled with picnics, visits to the Carnegie Library and walks in the woods.

But two tragedies struck the family when she was a teenager, her relatives said. When Dorothy was in high school, the house burned down and locals looted the place, her family said. Soon after, his father’s business began to fail during the Great Depression and he died of heart disease. This forced Dorothy in 1932 to drop out of Ohio Wesleyan University, where she was studying English. She told those close to her that it was the saddest day of her life.

To support the family, she went to live alone with her cousin in New York, where it was difficult to find work until she forged a letter of reference, obtaining her job as first secretary.

In 1947, she was an executive secretary in a large distillery. She eventually became the Seagram chairman’s trusted right-hand man, until his retirement in 1981, his family said. She went to concerts, plays and museums. The executives invited her to stay in their luxury apartments in Manhattan and took her to special events, such as the Kentucky Derby.

She was able to buy a house in Freeport, live there with her mother and aunt on the first floor, and care for them until they died.

Sellers became what some considered a “master artist”, making and customizing miniature ornaments, a business she called “It’s a Dotti Sellers Original”. She specialized in turning eggs into holiday ornaments, carefully chipping away the shell to make a large opening, then painting the inside and inserting miniature figures for a scene – a father and son skating on a frozen pond in one, an Easter egg with a bunny hopping in another.

A decorative egg made by Dorothy Sellers.
Credit: Mary Alice Harper

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which sold his miniatures, commissioned him to create a Christmas tree for former President Herbert Hoover, who lived in the penthouse, according to a newsletter from one of his employers. She made another personalized tree out of golf clubs when asked what Christmas present to give her friend Ike, Kelly recalled. That’s how she got letters of thanks from Hoover and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower for the gift to her husband Dwight at the White House.

His family is asking for donations to be made to the Hospice Care Network in Woodbury, the Planting Fields Foundation in Oyster Bay and the Freeport Library and Museum.

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