Longtime Tiburon resident Mary Rogers was pioneer in helping women become financially literate

June 16, 2020

 

Longtime Tiburon resident Mary E. Schmidt Rogers, whose pioneering 1978 book “Women and Money” taught women how to take control of their financial lives, died June 6. She was 103 years old. 

 

The book, released when Mrs. Rogers was 65, predated celebrity financial author Suze Orman’s book of the same name by nearly three decades.

 

Mrs. Rogers got her start in finance as a mutual-funds sales broker with the firm of Waddell & Reed in 1956, an era when few women held jobs in finance. 

 

She stayed with the firm until 1971, learning a lot about money and what the women around her didn’t know about it. Women she would meet would beg her to teach them how to manage money. That gave her an idea. She began to give “Women and Money” lectures all over the state and then turned the lecture series into her first book. She published a second book, “Women, Divorce and Money,” in 1981. She would tease her husband later, “Thank God we never had to use this information.”

 

Both were published by the educational textbook firm McGraw-Hill. Mrs. Rogers soon after bought back the rights and sold “Women and Money” to Citicorp, which had hired her over a pool of male applicants to tour the country and give lectures on financial plans, women and money.

 

“She was a force of nature,” said Carly Rogers, Mrs. Rogers’ granddaughter. “She would say, ‘If your husband doesn’t come home tomorrow night or he dies tomorrow, do you know where the money is? Do you know if you’re financially able to take care of yourself?’”

 

When asked in those days why there was a need for a book on finance for women, she would respond, “Because most women are one step away from welfare and don’t even know it,” according to her granddaughter.

 

In the 1980s, she provided private financial counseling to divorcees and widows who needed advice. She charged $25 an hour to start but then upped her rate to $50 and found she was getting twice the bookings.

 

“It was my job to tell them where they were, not what to do,” she said in a previous interview in The Ark. She said she stopped charging when she realized what a fragile position some of the women were in. 

 

“I just wanted to help out and make sure that women were OK financially,” Mrs. Rogers said. “Women need sound financial advice, and I was there to give it to them.”

 

Mrs. Rogers was born Mary Schmidt on Nov. 3, 1916, in Everett, Wash., to Iowa native Niels Andrew-Anderson Schmidt and Wisconsin native Helen Rebecca Walker. She moved with her family to Pasadena in 1922, where her maternal grandparents had resettled and where her mother hoped the warm weather would soothe her arthritis.

 

She grew up during the Great Depression. After her graduation from high school in 1934, she got a job with Standard Oil operating a comptometer, a mechanical adding machine that was the forerunner of the electronic calculator. It had a hand crank similar to the ones seen on slot machines.

 

During a period when her father was unemployed, she was the breadwinner. She learned to cut the family’s costs a nickel and a dime at a time and to keep track of her spending. 

 

Her father eventually landed a prized union job as a gaffer in the motion-picture industry. 

 

Mrs. Rogers met her husband, Camden Eugene Rogers, on a sailing outing to Santa Catalina Island. They married in 1941. Camden Rogers was drafted into the Merchant Marine in February 1942 after the U.S. entered World War II. They moved to Virginia, where he underwent training, and she remained on the East Coast for the most of the war years, highly employable because of her skill on the comptometer.

 

After the war, the Rogerses settled in Westchester, near Los Angeles International Airport, and raised their only child, John. Camden became a lighting director at MGM Studios. When her son started school, Mrs. Rogers became an Avon Lady and found she was good at sales.

 

“I knocked on doors and met all sorts of women,” Mrs. Rogers said of that stint. “Almost all of them told me their husbands gave them an allowance, but they knew nothing about the family’s finances. This happened time and time again. I decided my lifelong crusade would be to help teach women how to be responsible for themselves.” 

 

She went from Avon to the job at Waddell and Reed, after qualifying for her broker’s license.

 

Mrs. Rogers joined the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles in 1949. She had to develop pros-and-cons analysis on state ballot measures that was then presented to voters in election forums. She learned how to ask questions, how to research and how to handle an audience, she said in a previous interview in The Ark. 

 

The league “gave me the higher education that I wanted and the training I would use the rest of my life,” Mrs. Rogers said.

 

She was active in the organization for 25 years, eventually serving as chair of the Los Angeles chapter and treasurer of the League of Women Voters of California. She also served on the Los Angeles International Airport Commission, as part of a committee that negotiated the purchase of homes in the path of a planned new runway.

 

The Rogerses moved in 1971 to Tiburon, where Camden Rogers had relatives, and bought a house in the Old Tiburon neighborhood with savings she’d squirreled away. They were members of the Corinthian Yacht Club, where they berthed their 24-foot Columbia sailboat, “The Little Dividend.”

 

After her move to Tiburon, she served two separate terms on the Marin Commission on Aging. The Tiburon Town Council appointed her as Tiburon representative to a housing committee that oversaw management of The Hilarita affordable-housing complex.

 

She was also a docent at Angel Island State Park and reportedly was treasurer of the Angel Island Association, now the Angel Island Conservancy.

 

She started going to Tiburon Physical Therapy on lower Ark Row in the late 1990s after shoulder surgery and kept going two or three times a week until 2018. She called it her gym. At one point, she discovered the Tiburon Thrift Store a few doors down, and it became one of her favorite haunts.

 

One of her closest friends was next-door neighbor Lucy Carrico Moody, a senior vice president of wealth management who also had spent her career in finance. Carrico was young enough to be Mrs. Rogers’ daughter. The two talked about their careers and about their experiences.

 

“She talked about life and growing old,” Carrico said in an interview. 

 

Carrico noted Mrs. Rogers had a variety of financial sayings: “You have to take the cream off the top,” meaning it was important to keep putting money away, and “You eat the eggs, but you don’t kill the chickens,” meaning it was important to maintain capital.

 

“She was very practical, very frugal and very much a believer in savings and investing in the stock market, investing wisely,” Carrico said.

 

At age 65, Mrs. Rogers started walking and hiking as a way of keeping fit. She joined the Marin Sierra Club and went on many hikes on Mount Tamalpais and at Yosemite.

 

After her husband died in 1994, she traveled with others through the Elderhostel program, now known as Road Scholar.

 

As she entered her 90s, she wrote a pamphlet on the art of accepting the changes that come with aging and learning to accept care and assistance when necessary.

 

The Tiburon Town Council presented her with a plaque in 2016 to recognize her 100th birthday, and the town of Tiburon celebrated her with a party in the council chambers. She treasured the 100th birthday card she received from then-President Barack Obama.

 

Mrs. Rogers is survived by her son, John Rogers of Hermosa Beach; a granddaughter, Carly Rogers, of Cayucos; and two great-grandchildren, 6-year-old Rylan Ender and 3-year-old Greyson Ender.

 

A celebration of her life will be held later at a location yet to be determined. 

 

Donations in her memory can be made to Sutter Care at Home hospice services by visiting suttercareathome.org/giving or sending a check to Sutter Care at Home, Attn: Gift Processing, Box 160045, Sacramento, CA 95816; or to Tiburon-Belvedere Residents United to Save Trails at tiburontrails.org.

 

Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.

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