“Ding-dong, Avon Calling!” The ads on TV and in magazines showed an “Avon Lady’' in dress or suit and hat, showing off the company’s creams, lotions, makeup and fragrances to a homemaker who has invited her in. Pat Donaldson spent a career with the 135-year-old company, first as an Avon Lady going door-to-door in the mid-1960s and finally as a supervisor of supervisors of Avon Ladies. Though they are fewer, Avon Ladies still knock on doors. But the company also sells Avon online.
Donaldson, who turned 90 last month, has been retired for 35 years. She and her second husband, the late Robert Donaldson, spent their early retirement years traveling around the country and cruising to the Bahamas in a 55-foot inboard diesel he built himself. She spends her days now keeping in shape. She climbs the six flights of stairs to her condo in St. Petersburg for exercise. And she walks three times a week, always carrying a bag to pick up litter with a gloved hand. To neighbors, she’s known as the “Cookie Lady.’’ About twice a month she bakes dozens of cookies – oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, ginger snaps – and delivers them to residents in her building.
“She went from the Avon Lady to the Cookie Lady,’’ says neighbor Donna O’Quinn
Donaldson talked with the Tampa Bay Times about her career and life now.
How did you decide to become an Avon Lady?
At first, it was just something to kind of play with. I met a gal, she was going to Avon, so I went with her and the Avon Lady asked me if I wanted to sign up and make some money. That’s the way I first got there, and I started by going around the neighborhood and trying to find people that would like to see me. It was nice money, but as much as the nice money it was getting out of the house. I (took) the baby along one time.
Did that help sales?
I think so. They all liked to play with and see the little baby.
What advice did the supervisors give you?
Mostly it was to talk to people, get them to want to sell Avon, too. When I was at the meeting, she said if you find another person to sell Avon you get extra money, a bonus for that.
Were there only Avon Ladies? Did they ever have Avon Gentlemen?
I never saw a man with Avon until maybe 20 years. … If you saw the man, he was a big shot.
What was the reception like then? Ever have people slam the door in your face?
No, they wouldn’t (do that to) a lady. They would just say no.
Though you say hats were optional for door-to-door Avon Ladies, supervisors had to wear them. Why?
They are ladies. … Now that you have this job and you are training other people, you have to be a picture: they want to look like you.
How did you rise in the company?
It was 20 years after I got married (to her first husband). The marriage was falling apart. ...
(An) insurance company was wanting a woman to sell insurance because they were having a very new thing with their company. They were insuring the whole family, not just the man. The wife, the children. That was new. That’s what I started to do. When the marriage broke up he went his way and I went my way with four kids.
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Because I was still selling Avon on the side... one evening when I went in… that’s when she had classes for you, new products and so forth. She said Avon is expanding quite a bit and they need people to do this job that I’m doing. I asked her, I said, how much money do you make with this? And it was a pretty good sum.
What did you like about the company?
When I first started I just liked the thing about going out and getting to know people. And the money (laughs).
For women, jobs weren’t as good as they were for a man. ...
When I was working mostly with women and teaching them how to teach other ladies, it was satisfactory. You’d see somebody that you trained going out and getting good.
How often do you climb the stairs in your building up to the sixth floor?
And you walk a lot?
I always walked... even when I went up in the job... and had to sit on my fanny all day. ...
Right now I walk three days a week, and three days a week I do exercise. ... Avon always presented me with moving, and pretty much walking and doing things.
How long are you out?
An hour and a half.
Why did you start bringing a trash bag?
That started when I saw people in the neighborhood, oh, somebody dropped a thing. And I was getting aggravated about it and so I just started to pick it up.
How did you become the Cookie Lady?
Well, what happened is... (the pandemic) started and nobody was going to get together. We get together here now once a month and you meet each other and you talk to each other. … And I’m here alone and bored. Very bored. You can read for a certain length of time. So, one day I thought, oh, I think I’ll make some cookies. I set some aside for the grand-kids. I really don’t eat cookies a whole lot. So I thought I’m going to do something. So I put them in a bag, went around, knocked on doors and when they opened the door, I’d say, “Cookie day!”