Beatrice Webb, 81, of Philadelphia, a groundbreaking buyer at the Gimbel Bros. department store and later the owner of Webb Florist in East Mount Airy, died Wednesday, Oct. 18, of respiratory failure at her daughter's home in Wyncote.
Mrs. Webb was determined to land a job in the retail industry and she did so with drive and determination. Starting in 1962, she worked with makeup at the Sally Shoppes. In 1964, she joined Gimbels in Center City. She went from a clerical position to a job as the assistant buyer for cosmetics and teens', children's, and women's apparel.
By 1973, she was the lead buyer in all four categories. In doing so, she stood out as one of the first African American buyers at the Philadelphia department store, her family said.
"She helped open the doors of diversity," said her daughter, Leslie Crudup. "It was not easy. She was tenacious. She felt like she always had to dress the part, go the extra mile. She was very meticulous and extremely organized." She worked for the store until it closed in the mid-1980s.
That same year, Mrs. Webb decided to take over a flower shop at Chew and Hortter Streets whose owner was quitting the business. She had never worked in the flower business before, but that didn't faze her.
"My mother bought everything in the store. A lot of the business, my mother learned on her own. She took a class," Crudup said. Her family helped at the shop and with deliveries.
Soon, she was turning out eye-catching bouquets. Webb Florist was known for the silk-flower arrangements that she placed in the shop window.
"Inside," her family said, "you would find Bea with her glasses on the end of nose, working feverishly on the next arrangement." She kept pace with arrangements tailored for weddings, funerals, proms, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day.
Mrs. Webb believed that being aggressive and attentive were the keys to success. She told others: "Walk fast and carry a pen." Her other mantra was: "If you are not going to do it right, don't do it all."
Mrs. Webb was the founder of an informal group consisting of herself and three female relatives. The group organized vacations and trips in the 1990s. What began as annual family outings expanded to setting up excursions for others in the community. Most of the trips included visiting a casino or seeing a play.
She was also an excellent seamstress, making outfits for her family and friends. "She was original in everything that she would do," said Crudup.
A commanding presence, Mrs. Webb believed in plain common sense, which she dispensed to anyone who asked for advice and some who didn't. "She would offer counsel on your life, your romance, and even your finances," her daughter said.
When not at work, her primary focus was her family. She was a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. "Her deep affection and loving manner shined over three generations who thrived under her wisdom," the family said.
She was born and raised in South Philadelphia, and attended John Bartram High School. She married William A. Webb Jr. in 1965. He died in 2004. The couple lived in Germantown while raising four children.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by daughter Adrienne Robinson; sons Aaron and Leonard Webb; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; a brother; a sister; and nieces and nephews.
Services were Friday, Oct. 26, with interment in Ivy Hill Cemetery.