Today: Vera Brown, who built a successful business in her 60’s and then did something even more remarkable.
In the early 1970’s Vera, wife of Los Angeles real estate developer Gilbert Brown, had raised their daughter Angela and her step-daughter Jeri, and like many a stay at home mom wanted a new challenge.
But what would that challenge be?
As a teenager, Vera suffered from severe acne, which made her feel undesirable and ugly, a pain and an insecurity that haunted her throughout her adult life.
As a result, over the years she studied skin care and mastered the care of her own skin and gave facials to her friends and advised them on the care of their skin. Vera created natural skin care products at home and her friends pointed out the obvious; she was already doing what she loved, but was not charging for her skills and products.
So Vera decided to get into the skin care business. But how does one get into a business with no experience? She decided the answer was to learn from the best.
She studied under noted Hollywood skin care expert Dr. Venner Kelson, whose client list included such stars as Jack Benny and Merle Oberon.* He enhanced her skills and taught her how he and other successful people in that business attracted clients.
With time, Vera opened her own spas. She had Vera’s Retreat in Tarzana, beginning in 1976 and Vera’s Retreat in the Glen in Bel Air, which she opened in 1987.
Over the years she ran those successful spas and built her own celebrity clientele, including Chris Evert, Whitney Houston, Nicole Kidman and Jane Seymour.*
And she developed her own successful skin care line, which grew out of the natural ingredients she had originally used in her home.
For most businesspeople, earning fortune and fame are the ultimate goals, but not for Vera. As she grew more successful, she had something much greater in mind. And this is where our story takes a remarkable turn.
Vera wanted to do something that would bring her life greater meaning and she decided to help girls and women in need. Whether they suffered from cancer or other terrible diseases, or were drug addicted and even homeless, she was there for them.
She met them in hospitals, in skid row rescue missions and in the jails. There she and volunteers would give them free facials, cut their hair, manicure their nails and teach them about how to use makeup to help bring out their beauty.
Vera’s goal was to help them build self-esteem and not only tell them how beautiful they could be but let them see it for themselves.
Yet for Vera, even that wasn’t enough. Late in her life, after she had sold her spas, she opened a salon on the Junior Blind of America Los Angeles campus. There she gave her advice and beauty products to blind women free of charge and even labeled the products in Braille.
She wanted these women to feel beautiful, even though they couldn’t see it for themselves. And she taught them her skills so they could make themselves beautiful.
Vera was so completely involved with her Junior Blind of America venture that she even swept the floors until this last year when her health began to fail.
On September 24th, 2010 Vera passed away in her Los Angeles home at the age of 90. She is survived by her daughter and step-daughter and three grandsons. But she is also survived by the thousands of women who were her clients.
Some of those clients were the rich, including the famous. But others were blind or from the jails or a skid row shelter.
One such woman was Vickie Henderson. Vera met her at the Los Angeles Mission in 1993 and being sincerely concerned about her well-being, asked her what would become of her when she left the Mission.
Vickie burst into tears. She wished she could have even one day sober from alcohol and other drugs. She wished she could have her three children back. And she wished she could become a beautician and make people look beautiful.
With encouragement from Vera and others, and a deep desire for a better future, Vickie became sober, ridding herself of alcohol and other drugs. Then through Vera; a wealthy benefactor put her through cosmetology school.
After getting her license and becoming a beautician, with Vera’s guidance, Vickie returned to school to learn reflexology, which is massaging areas of the foot to relieve stress and promote healing elsewhere in the body. Vera then employed her as the “Foot Fairy” at her Bel Air spa, a job she held for the next seven years.
With drug addiction and homelessness far into Vickie’s past, she had a home, a good career, a paycheck and most of all she got her children back.
And just when it seemed things could not get any better for Vickie, Vera brought her to the salon she was developing for People Assisting the Homeless.
Vera hired her to manage the Vera Brown Personal Care Center there, where Vickie has worked for the last nine years helping 10 or more homeless clients a day to “look good, feel good.”*
As a former homeless person, it was Vickie’s dream job, in which she now makes a significant difference in the lives of others on society’s bottom rung, much as Vera had helped her to uplift herself.
Success Tip of the Week: If you want to start a business, do as Vera did, look into your heart and listen to your friends and your ideal business may await you. And then learn from the best. And if you build a successful business, you may find an even greater calling as Vera did.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you want to start a business, do as Vera did, look into your heart and listen to your friends and your ideal business may await you. And then learn from the best. And if you build a successful business, you may find an even greater calling as Vera did.
*the primary source for today’s story was the Los Angeles Times obituary, “Vera Brown dies at 90; skin care expert with star-studded clientele.” It was also the source for the client lists quoted for Vera and for Dr. Venner Kelson.
In the next KazanToday:
Mocked by others for his shortcoming, a man harnessed the heartache he felt to become a successful attorney, professor and disability rights activist.
For information about People Assisting the Homeless: http://www.epath.org/index_01.php