A Tribute to My Mother and Toy Industry Families


My apologies for not posting for a few weeks.  My mother lost her battle with cancer just before my Chicago events (TAGIE Conference, TAGIE Awards and ChiTAG), and I took time off to work on her estate. 

TAGIE Awards 2010 picture of Tim as MC My mother loved to tinker – she made dollhouses, castles, barns and more as gifts for her kids and grandkids. She was great at fixing broken toys as well as at designing and making them from scratch. It was from her that I inherited my love for inventing and an appreciation for those who invent. Since the beginning of ChiTAG, my mom helped in so many ways and she would sit at a table with her sisters, Jo and Virg, checking in teachers and scouts all day long.  Mom loved the idea of honoring inventors at the TAGIE Dinner and she encouraged me when the going  was rough. 

We missed her terribly this year.

 Mine is not a unique story in our industry. This year at the TAGIE Awards we honored The Jim HensonTagie Awards 2010 Lisa Henson and Jamie Kiefer   Company for Excellence in Character Design, Ellen Hassenfeld Block and Alan Hassenfeld for their Humanitarian Works, and Eddy Goldfarb for his Lifetime Achievement in inventing. Julie Ellman  accepted the In Memoriam award for his late partner, George Lerner, inventor of Mr. Potato Head. All have parents, children or both in the business and they all told family stories. Many of the other nominees came from toy inventing families as well – David Fuhrer (brother Robert and dad Len), Kate Daniels (mother Beth) and Ali Ryan (dad Steve). 

TAGIE Awards 2010 Ellie's speech Apart from the Mafia, there is no industry where family connections are  more prevalent. I think the main reason is that we take our work home with us and involve our children in it. Ours are products that our kids want and we use their feedback. We pass our love of the business along to them. In her speech, Ellen told a wonderful story about how her brother Stephen and she found Mr. Potato Head parts in their father’s briefcase and after sticking them into a summer squash thought that THEY had invented Mr. Potato Head. Tagie Awards 2010 Julie Ellman

My son, Nick, has worn an Assistant Director badge at ChiTAG since he was 6 years old. He walks around the Fair shaking exhibitor’s hands and playing with their toys and games. This year, as a 14 year old, the highlight for him was meeting Miss Teen Illinois, but he still enjoyed talking with the exhibitors. Some of them tell me they mark the years by how much Nick has grown up. 

TAGIE Awards 2010 Bob Wann and Eddy Many of our industry colleagues are like family. So many of our efforts are collaborative and ours is a community that will step up to help and support you when you are in need. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this year without so much help from so many of you. Thank you.

Pictures: Tim Walsh (The Playmakers) as MC on stage; Lisa Henson (The Jim Henson Company) with Jamie Kieffer (Learning Curve Brands); Ellie Hassenfeld Block (Toy Industry Foundation); George Burtch (Hasbro), Julie and Fred Ellman (Lernell Company); and, Bob Wann (Patch Products) and Eddy Goldfarb.

7 thoughts

  1. I love this post Mary. It’s a beautiful tribute to your mom — How she inspired you through her own creativity and passion, encouraged and championed you, and how she passed down her amazing gifts, leaving a legacy to treasure for you and Nick.

  2. It’s really great that you have all these lovely memories of your Mum and so sad she lost her battle with cancer. I don’t know where you found the courage or energy to see The Tagie Awards through to the end, perhaps it was the real love and respect I felt and knew you had from your toy industry ‘family’. I am sure your Mum would have been really proud of you.
    Take care, Tricia & Scott

  3. Beautiful Mary. I am so sorry I didn’t get the chance to meet your mom. I would have thanked her for the gift of you.
    You passion and grace and tireless efforts to do good things with your talents must make her so proud.
    Peace Sister~

  4. Mary, so sorry for your loss.
    Wonderful post on the value of family within the toy industry. We enjoyed visiting ChiTAG this year and are so grateful for your hard work!
    Best Wishes,
    North American Bear Co.

  5. Mary, thank you for putting your heart into this event year after year.
    ChiTag and the TAGI Awards, with all of its richness, complexity and I’m sure at times, frustrating logistics, simply could not be done by someone ticking off a to do list. These events happen because of your genuine, caring nature, persistence, and desire to bring this industry together in a meaningful way. AND to share the meaning and value of play with children and families. I know that organizing these events while caring for your mom was not easy, but you did it. And I don’t think anyone is surprised that you managed so many important responsibilities at once. You’ve got heart and drive in spades and so many of us are grateful to you.

  6. What kid WOULDN’T want to be apart of the Toy/Game business?! My father is a CPA and he couldn’t bribe any of his kids to take over the family business because dealing with taxes and the IRS doesn’t sound like fun at all!
    And I’m so sorry about your mother Mary; but think of how many happy memories she’s given you! Obviously she rubbed off on you because I know I’ll always cherish the memories of Toy and Game Industry Awards events for years to come! Thanks!

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