Founder of Home Interiors & Gifts, Inc.
by Mary Trotter Kion
To Mary C. Crowley, founder of Home Interiors & Gifts, Inc., one of her greatest joys was sharing the bounties of life she received. To this Christian woman of business her most precious gift was her faith in Christ. The material wealth she was blessed with in her adult years was the result of her faith in God and in her self. Her grandparents instilled in her the love of Jesus and he became her best friend. Mary was wed in 1932, after heights graduation. The following year a son was born followed by a daughter in 1935. Receiving little help from her husband, where they lived in Sherman, Texas during the depression, she had only one choice. If her children were not to starve she needed to find a job. This was a time when bank presidents were standing in bread lines but that didn’t stop Mary. God was gently urging her forward. And forward Mary went.
Mary selected a store she would like to work in, dressed pretty, and armed herself with a confident smile. She sailed through the doors of that store and got the job. With out knowing it, here she began to develop the shrewd business sense that later enabled her to become head of a multimillion dollar company. But she didn’t do it alone, and she knew that. God was right beside her every step of the way. He was still with Mary as she struggled, sole-supporter of her children, as she attended business school in Dallas, Texas. After putting her children in loving hands, other than her own, she lived in Dallas during the week while attending classes. On weekends she returned home to be with her children and work at Montgomery Wards.
Due to religious training and personal inclination, she did not want to divorce her husband who was not assisting in any way. But in 1939 she divorced him and took her children to Dallas. By the time the depression was over and World War II was beginning she was now studying to be a CPA and working full time for an insurance company. Adding to her many problems, Mary suffered from insomnia. But as always, during times of trial, she turned this problem over to God. She’d tell him, “Lord, you know I’ve got to get my rest. You worry about these problems. You’re going to be up all night anyway.” Soon she’d be asleep though all her other problems still remained. One concern was the struggle to give tempered of her wages to her church. Before payday, Mary and her children sometimes had nothing to eat but cereal and milk but they never went hungry. Her children were often the center of her thoughts but she was raising them in a loving and caring home where they shared the responsibilities.
In 1948 Mary married David M. Crowley, Jr. As she says in her book, You Can Too, they had “been in love a long time.” She met David when she worked for the insurance company some years earlier. Now Mary could truly have a loving home, and she wanted to make it as attractive as she could. As an accountant for a furniture company Mary met many women with the same desires towards their own homes. She’d seen considerable evidence of this when young married couples came to buy entire households of furniture. An idea was forming in Mary’s busy brain, though she was not aware of it at the time. She found that most of these people had no idea of what accessories to use with their new furniture, nor any knowledge of colors to coordinate it all with. They needed decorating advice. Long before Home Interiors & Gifts, Inc. was born its beginning was forming in her mind when she wished there was a better way she could help these people.
Mary Crowley also wanted to be home when her children returned from school, an impossible task while working for the furniture store. In His own way, God was surely handing Mary each individual piece of his plan for her future, one idea and wish at a time, until the moment was right for Him and her to put it all together.
When Mary became interested in Stanley Home Products home party sales is was certainly one more step closer to the birth of her own company. The next step in God’s plan for Mary came in 1954 when a man who imported gifts and decorative accessories asked her to become his sales manager in a new direct-sales company. After three years in this new venture Mary’s staff had increased to five hundred women selling on the party plan. The success was overwhelming, and then the owner began including cocktail parties into company functions. Mary highly objected to this. He also put limits on the commissions the women selling could make. Mary had no choice but to tell him she could not work for him any longer under such conditions. His reply was to send her what office furniture belonged to her. Mary was overwhelmed with grief and in tears, but God’s next step was about to be taken.
Home Interiors & Gifts, Inc. was born. Though Mary was amazed at all the people who had faith in her and helped, her main concern was whether this was what God wanted her to do. She also was uncertain how her husband would take the long hours she would need to spend on this new venture. Dave was absolutely supportive and in December of 1957 Mary’s business was official. She always gave God credit for opening the doors but she knew it was up to her to go through those doors. God wouldn’t just hand the business to her.
Most of the first women Displayers she hired had never held a job or gone to college, and were totally dependent on their husbands for support. Many of them needed help with their appearance. Of all the things she lovingly taught them one of the main things was to “be alert to the needs of other women” and to see them as God saw them. With God’s help, Mary did her job well.
Soon Mary’s company was paying dividends and bonuses. She knew the business was off and running when, later, her daughter opened up the East Coast for Home Interiors. Then in 1962 the sales force recorded one million dollars in sales, and Mary was diagnosed with cancer. Mary Crowley fought two bouts with cancer but continued on. In 1977 she was one of twenty business leaders invited to a conference with President Carter. She was the first woman to serve on the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. She received two honorary doctorate degrees before her death in 1986.