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Bacon was committed to used sail shop

Annapolis woman worked tirelessly for her consignment business, right up until her death in June at 89

Annapolis woman worked tirelessly for her consignment business, right up until her death in June at 89

Marilyn “Dixie” Bacon, when she sailed, wanted no part of a wheel at the helm. She was a tiller sailor because, she told people, you had a better “feel” of the boat.

The same was true of her work. Owner and co-founder of Bacon & Associates, the Annapolis sail consignment business, she insisted on spending at least an hour a day on her showroom floor. She wanted to keep in touch with her customers and feel the shifts in her business, says her nephew, Steve Reeves.

Mrs. Bacon, 89, stubbornly worked every day her store was open, despite the onset of a series of strokes that began in 2002, Reeves says. She died June 4 after entering an Annapolis hospital four days earlier. She suffered a stroke that day as she headed to work and then was beset by another stroke two days later in the hospital.

“Three weeks before this happened, she and I had a talk about the end of our lives,” says Don Backe, a friend of hers who is a paraplegic and founder of Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB). “She and I were talking about living out our lives and working toward the very end. She had no interest in retiring. She enjoyed every minute of life.”

The used-sail business had been her working life since 1959, when she and her late husband, Doug, began selling an inventory of sails he had accumulated. Reeves explains that Doug Bacon had been building fiberglass catamarans of various designs and had advertised to buy used sails for them. He found he could sell the sails he didn’t need and make a profit. But first, he measured all the sails in his inventory and made a record of them so buyers would know whether they fit their boats.

Today, in Bacon & Associates offices, there are thousands of file cards with information on all the sails the company has sold from the beginning. In a warehouse behind the showroom, racks hold the company’s inventory of about 10,000 sails. The “hottest” sails leave the shelves in days, says Reeves, to whom Mrs. Bacon left the company. But some might stay in stock 30 years.

The Bacons met during World War II when both worked at General Electric in Massachusetts. Mrs. Bacon had attended DrakeUniversity in Iowa and at GE was involved in experiments tracking the failures of capacitors, Reeves says.

She started flying small airplanes as a teen — first biplanes and then single-wing planes, says Reeves. She had most recently flown a glider three years ago. But when she met Bacon, she was not a sailor.

That changed after the couple moved to the Chesapeake region. “She and her husband were really working out of the back of his old Cadillac,” selling sails, says Robert Slaff, a columnist in Annapolis who worked for many years in the marine industry.

The Bacons moved from one small location to another, stopping in Oxford and the Eastport section of Annapolis before Doug Bacon died in 1972.

Every summer, Mrs. Bacon, who had no children of her own, paid to fly her nephew, Reeves, to Annapolis. There she arranged for him to take sailing lessons taught by midshipmen from the NavalAcademy.

She had established Bacon & Associates as a thriving business when, in 1992, she persuaded Reeves to take a job with her. He ran the day-to-day operations in the shop and handled Internet sales. She did the accounting. As a boss, Reeves says, “she was very strict for many years, on top of absolutely everything.”

After the strokes started — Reeves says doctors have told him that was in 2002 — “she softened up, being more congenial and easier to work with.” There were telltale signs of her illness, he says. Employees noticed she began to carry her handbag in her right hand rather than the left.

Mrs. Bacon always preached a business philosophy to “do the best you can do and be straightforward and honest about the sails,” Reeves says. She thought that would build a reputation customers could trust.

But that reputation was blemished when, in 2001, a jury in county court found her and her company guilty of breach of contract for failing to pay an Australian sailmaker what he was owed. Two years later, an appeals court upheld the jury’s verdict and awarded Rolly Tasker Sails $423,000. (Reeves says the debt was $63,000, but the court required Mrs. Bacon to pay the value of all the sails she had handled for Rolly Tasker since 1971.)

Reeves blames the dispute that ended in the verdicts on stubbornness both on the part of his aunt and Tasker. He says her history of strokes contributed to an inability to defend herself during the rigors of a trial.

The verdict left Mrs. Bacon’s company saddled with a mortgage on its building on Legion Avenue in western Annapolis and created a public relations “nightmare,” says Reeves, noting that whenever the issue of the suit arises in public, some customers try to challenge the company’s credibility.

In recent months, Reeves says, his aunt had good and bad days. “On her good days, she was as sharp as anybody else,” he says. On bad days, she still came to work, wrote out checks, talked with customers and sold sails.

A week before her stroke, she carried a 40-pound package to her car, refusing pleas from her employees to take over the burden, Reeves says.

“She was tough,” Reeves says.