Mourners overflowed the doors of a Bedford Corners, NY, temple on Jan. 16 to honor Dorothy Feiss, devoted wife of Murray Feiss and industry icon in her own right, who died one day earlier, just eight days shy of her 83rd birthday.
The large crowd of attendees, some of whom flew in for only an hour on their way to the Dallas Market, was a testament to the size of the “Dorothy fan club,” as her daughter June Hersh calls it.
“My mother didn’t have friends, she had fans,” Hersh says. “She was adored by everyone. I don’t think there’s anyone who could say a bad word about her.”
Max Lebersfeld, co-chairman of Capitol Lighting, was among the attendees and says the large crowd shows that Dorothy was a “universally beloved person.”
“I told Murray that I felt like I was attending a state funeral, because she was the first lady of the lighting business,” Lebersfeld says.
Andrea Greene, Dorothy’s eldest daughter, attributes this to her mother’s ability to make people feel cared for, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the Murray Feiss showroom in Dallas. There, people could come in, trade their shoes for slippers and eat a meal in Dorothy’s Café, served by Dorothy and her daughters. Greene says the food line would often stretch out the showroom doors, because Dorothy used that time to catch up with customers about weddings, graduations, children and other important events.
“She made them feel welcome, like she was part of their family and they were part of ours,” Greene says. “She was very much a part of Dallas, and people truly looked forward to coming to the showroom.”
Bill Winsor, President and CEO of the Dallas Market Center, remembers when Murray Feiss was one of the first people to sign a lease in Dallas, and says the market will never be the same without Dorothy’s presence.
“She was always very committed to serving food in the Feiss showroom, and if you came by and it wasn’t mealtime, she would scold you if you didn’t come back for food,” Winsor says. “She was always making sure everyone had a square meal.”
Making sure people got enough to eat was just one of the ways Dorothy was like a mother figure to her customers and employees.
“From mothering us all through a midnight fire drill during a market to her front row seat in the showroom during sporting events, she was always welcoming and gracious,” says Carol Gressett from Carol’s Lighting in Texas. “No matter where you went, if Dorothy was near, you felt at home and cared for.”
People were also drawn to Dorothy because of her positive attitude and the fact that you never saw her without a smile on her face, says Kathy Ingato from Capitol Lighting.
“Dorothy always had great stories, but never ever said anything bad or negative about anyone or anything. She was always so happy and upbeat,” Ingato says. “She felt every day was a blessing, and that’s how she lived her life.”
Bobby Baer from Baer’s Furniture says this positive attitude was infectious, to the point where you would always feel better just by talking to Dorothy.
“If you called her up and you had a problem, she knew how to take a frown off your face and put a smile there in no time,” Baer says.
The tradition of Feiss family hospitality predates Dallas, going back to the 1950s, when Murray Feiss had a showroom in New York City. Twice a year, Murray and Dorothy would invite 40 or 50 buyers to visit the showroom, but instead of hosting a lunch or cocktail party there, Dorothy would hire a bus to bring the whole group back to her home, where she would make them all dinner. Greene remembers everyone gathering around the piano to sing and tell stories while she and her sister would put on talent shows.
Dorothy also opened up her home to long-term guests who came into town on industry business.
“My parents had people from Europe and China stay in our home and learn the business, sometimes for months at a time, and my mother would cook for them every night,” Greene says. “Our home was the industry’s bed and breakfast and no one ever wanted to leave.”
But Dorothy wasn’t just a hostess — she was also an integral part of her husband’s business. Hersh says her father’s success was in large part due to Dorothy, because she was by his side every step of the way. She accompanied him on store visits, as well as trips to Europe and Asia to find new sources for the company.
Years later, while building his new line, Authenticity Lighting, Dorothy liked to teasingly ask Murray, “This is what retirement looks like?”, but in reality, she was very excited for the new line, which debuted shortly after her passing.
“We really wanted to her to be able to see Authenticity become great, but as my son-in-law said to me, ‘The great thing about grandma is she didn’t have to see the outcome to know what the outcome would be,’” Hersh says.
This is just one example of Murray and Dorothy’s commitment to one another, which Winsor says made them the ideal couple.
“Murray never went anywhere without Dorothy by his side,” Winsor says. “She was a true partner, and they epitomized what a marriage should be.”
Outside of work, the couple was just as committed to one another. Murray would cook dinner for Dorothy every night, leading her daughters to frequently call her a “lucky, lucky girl.”
“They had a storybook marriage — he worshipped her, and he was her hero,” Greene says. “I’ve never seen a marriage in my life like my parents’ marriage, and if they taught us anything about relationships, it was through their marriage.”
Dorothy was perhaps most famous for never failing to recognize a special event in her customers’ or employees’ lives. Whether it was a birth, wedding, graduation or some other special event, Dorothy would always send a card and a personalized gift. Greene says this was the one task Dorothy never let her daughters take over, because she enjoyed it so much.
Aside from sending a gift, Dorothy also recognized these special events in the Feiss newsletter, where she had a column called Dorothy’s Corner for news, recipes and other tidbits.
“Her column was something we looked forward to, because it wasn’t just about business,” says Lou Castaldo, President of Hi-Light in New York. “She would talk about the births, graduations, weddings, engagements and all the happy events taking place in the lives of her customers. Her column was one of the highlights, because it was so personal.”
This genuine interest in people’s lives is what made Dorothy such a beloved figure in the industry. When Murray Feiss sales representative Eddie Goldberger’s then-nine-year-old daughter Lauren was diagnosed with lymphoma, Dorothy remained in constant contact during her treatment, sending gifts to both Lauren and her twin sister Rachel so she wouldn’t feel left out. Lauren is now 16 and off treatment for five years.
“Dorothy was the mother at the Murray Feiss company that made every customer, every rep, every potential customer feel as though they were part of her own family,” says Goldberger.
“I think the phrase ‘people person’ was coined about my mother, because she was the ultimate people person,” Hersh says. “And she did not discriminate to whom she was going to be a people person. My mother made everyone she ever met feel very special and very important, and I think that’s what people are going to remember the most about her.”
Part of this was due to the fact that Dorothy grew up very poor, Greene says, and worked full-time from the age of 13 to support her parents.
“She never forgot her humble roots, and because of that, no matter who you were, whether you were the person at the supermarket checkout or anyone else, she would care about the details of your life,” Greene says.
It was this attitude that led Dorothy to do selfless things like invite the daughter of her doctor’s receptionist to come use her pool to train for the swim team, or bring lunch to the woman who worked in the restroom outside the Feiss showroom. It also led her to do a great deal of philanthropy, including starting the Dorothy and Murray Feiss Foundation, which is annually divided between charities of Dorothy and Murray’s choosing.
Hersh says that while Dorothy is a tough act to follow, she and Greene will try to be the best people they can be in order to honor their mother’s legacy.
“It’s a huge loss for our family, but the effect has really been felt by everyone,” Hersh says. “I know my mother imbued everyone she met with her positive outlook, and hopefully everyone learned a little bit from her.”
Dorothy is survived by her husband, Murray; her children, Andrea and Robert Greene and June and Ron Hersh; her grandchildren, Adam and Susan Greene, Stacy and Erik Van Gunten, Allison and Daniel London, and Jennifer Hersh; and her great-grandchildren, Freya Rose Greene, Eloise Rose and Jack Dylan Van Gunten. Anyone wishing to make a donation in Dorothy’s memory may do so to the Dorothy and Murray Feiss Foundation, 4 Orchard Dr., Purchase, NY 10577.