Checking in: Farewell to the grand dame

Home Editorials Checking in: Farewell to the grand dame

by Steve Feldman

Lost in the pages of our last issue, the one that paid tribute to the 91-year life of FCNews founder Al Wahnon, was the obituary of another difference-making nonagenarian, Natalie Marcus. Those relatively new to this industry are probably unfamiliar with Natalie. Wait. Time out. Indulge me for a minute.

Natalie Marcus was the mother of Roger, president and CEO of Congoleum, and Rick, president and CEO of American Biltrite, parent company of Congoleum. The first time I met this woman was at a lunch in 2002. She was in her early 80s. I immediately felt I was in the company of royalty. Within minutes, I was simply spending time with my grandmother. But one thing seemed uncomfortable. I felt addressing her as “Mrs. Marcus” was inappropriately formal, but “Natalie” just seemed down-right disrespectful.

“So call me Nana.” And from that day on she was Nana. And always will be.

Anyway, we can talk about how Nana was the largest shareholder of Congoleum and American Biltrite. How she never missed a board meeting, even if it was via telephone in her latter years. But Nana was much more important than that. In fact, it can be argued that every female in the industry today owes a debt of gratitude to her.

At a time when females were few and far between in the flooring manufacturing world, Nana and her husband, Robert Marcus, brought style and design to the resilient category as the owners of American Tile Co., eventually to be known as Amtico. Robert ran the company; Nana was the multiple award-winning designer. She was attuned to the latest in color and design trends and Amtico quickly became known as the style leader. She blazed new trails, both in design and gender. Suffice it to say, she made her mark.

Nana also left her mark on anyone she’d meet. She was the epitome of class, grace and elegance. I referred to her as the grand dame of the flooring industry. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t speak her mind. I remember her asking me, discussing my ambitious travel schedule, if I ever got on the wrong plane. I responded by telling her I had only missed one plane in my life, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, because I mistook the arrival time in Chicago for the departure time on my itinerary. Her response was simple and to the point: “How could you be such a shmoe?”

Nana did not have much of a tolerance for mistakes. Her granddaughter, Elissa Marcus Massimo, would often send her letters, only for them to be returned with red-marked corrections and a dictionary attached. Or, if she was not satisfied with the condition of her food delivery, she would not bat an eyelash at deducting the cost of the item from the bill.

But her generosity was undeniable. It was common-place for Nana to invite a stranger sitting alone in a restaurant to join her. And speaking of restaurants, she was never one for the early bird special. At 94, Elissa said she still preferred dinner at 9:30 p.m.

There are very few people with whom you cross paths that either made a difference or seemed larger than life. Nana made a difference for the many women in the flooring industry today. And, if you were lucky enough to spend the smallest of fractions of your life with her, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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