Lois V. Grimm (Payne), 91, co-founder of MartinÕs Herend Imports, of Sterling, died at her daughterÕs home in Leesburg on Saturday, March 11, 2006.
Lois Virginia Payne was born in Washington, D.C., in 1914 and lived with her parents, three brothers and a sister on 6th Street, S.W. Orphaned at 5, her motherÕs youngest sister, ÒAunt GertÓ Suther, took all five children to raise in her home on Quincy Street in the Petworth area. The family belonged to the H Street Christian Church where Lois Grimm later taught Sunday School. She attended Business High School on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast Washington. Shortly after her graduation, Lois Grimm took a position with Adm. Richard Byrd as his Washington-based secretary for the Byrd Antarctica Expedition II (1933-35).
In 1935, Lois Grimm married Robert Grimm, her high-school sweetheart, then a Columbia University graduate. As a newlywed, Lois Grimm was employed by the Community Chest in Washington, D.C. Her husband was the business manager for Washington, D.C., philanthropist, Coleman Jennings, a position which he maintained until JenningsÕ death in the late '70s. In later years, Lois Grimm assumed the role of official hostess and party planner for elegant events at JenningsÕ antique-filled home on 24th Street. She accompanied her husband on trips to Scotland on behalf of the ÒCJ Fellowship Club,Ó a charitable organization formed by Jennings to promote the education of young people in Edinburgh. After her husbandÕs death, Lois Grimm continued the philanthropic work of Jennings as administrator of the ÒColeman Jennings Foundation,Ó and was responsible for distributing annual donations to a variety of charitable organizations nationwide.
In 1939, the Grimms purchased acreage and built a home on Georgetown Pike in McLean. While her husband served in the Navy during World War II, Lois Grimm moved back to Washington with her newborn son to spend the war years with her mother-in-law. After her husbandÕs return from the war, they moved back to the house in McLean, and settled into life in the Virginia countryside where they joined the Washington Golf and Country Club, and became members of St. JohnÕs Episcopal Church in McLean.
Lois GrimmÕs story as a business entrepreneur began in 1955 when she and her husband purchased MartinÕs China, Crystal and Silver Shop originally located on Connecticut Avenue, just south of Dupont Circle, and later relocated to Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown across from Billy MartinÕs Carriage House. In 1957, during a visit to Herend, Hungary, they negotiated the rights to be the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of the fine, hand painted porcelain dinnerware and figurines produced in that village. They purchased $400 worth of Herend products for their start-up inventory. At the time, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union and there was considerable Òanti-CommunistÓ sentiment in the U. S. for any items made behind the Iron Curtain. With the development of a persuasive advertising campaign and the influence of her personal credibility in the Washington area, Lois Grimm managed to overcome prevailing political prejudice to develop a rapidly growing niche for their infant product line from the tiny Hungarian village. In 1969, with the increasing popularity of Herend nationwide, the Grimms sold the store in Georgetown and set up headquarters in Sterling to focus on the wholesale market, opening accounts with small specialty and gift shops nationwide, as well as a select number of larger, high-end stores such as Neiman Marcus.
In 1979, the Grimms handed the reins of the company over to their daughter, Dianne Grimm Murphy, who was joined by her daughter, Kimberley Kimball, in 1983. As vice president of MartinÕs board of directors, Lois Grimm continued to guide the company from behind the scenes, assuring that her high standards of civility and sense of gentility remained as hallmarks of the company to which she had dedicated her life.
She worked every day until a few weeks before her death, overseeing day-to-day activities, and Òchecking on the girls Ñ her daughter and granddaughter Ñ to make sure they are workingÓ as she used to teasingly say. The multi-million dollar business thrives today as a living testament to Lois GrimmÕs strength of character and business acumen.
Lois Grimm was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Robert Grimm, by her sister, Frances Payne, and a brother, Carl Payne. Another brother, Melvin Payne, who was president and chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society for many years died in 1991.
In addition to daughter, Dianne Grimm Murphy, other survivors include a brother, Stanley Payne; a son, Leonard Grimm; granddaughters, Kimberley Kimball, Jennifer Grimm and Elizabeth Mavrommatis; grandson, Robert L. Grimm II; and 10 great grandchildren.
A memorial to celebrate Lois GrimmÕs life will be held Friday, April 7, at MartinÕs Herend Imports, 21440 Pacific Blvd., Sterling, from 1 to 3 p.m.