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Eileen Morrill, who created and ran a homemade handbag and belt business, dies

Eileen Morrill had clients up and down the East Coast, according to a co-worker, friend and neighbor.
Eileen Morrill had clients up and down the East Coast, according to a co-worker, friend and neighbor.

Eileen Morrill, who created and ran a successful homemade handbags and women’s jewelry business on the top floor of her Baltimore County home, died in her sleep March 17 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 91 and had lived in Monkton.

Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of S. Edwin Atkinson, a Commercial Credit treasurer, and his wife, Mabel Lillian, a homemaker. She attended St. Mary of the Assumption School, Notre Dame Preparatory School and Notre Dame of Maryland University.

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As a teen, she sold World War II bonds in the lobby of The Senator Theatre near her Govans home on Rosebank Avenue. She was a top seller and was given a lifetime pass to the movie house.

She met her future husband, Whitney French Morrill, at the soda fountain at the old Morgan & Millard drugstore in Roland Park. Their first date was at the Valley Inn on Falls Road. They married in 1949.

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Mrs. Morrill raised her family in a Garfield Avenue home in Monkton.

“She was generous with her time when we were young. She doted on her children,” said one of her sons, Mark Sheldon Morrill of Parkton. “In Monkton, she was the person who drove the car pool. Mom spoiled all four of us throughout our younger years.”

She raised three sons and a daughter.

“My mother was a loving person and gentle person. She loved to laugh,” said her daughter, Terry Morrill Silvano of Cockeysville. “My mother started what became her business by making me barrettes and headbands. She would cover them with grow grain and ribbons.”

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Mrs. Morrill later made pocketbooks of Ultrasuede, which was invented in 1970. She began her enterprise using an old Singer sewing machine in her family room.

“My mother made a success of her business. She was working for her children and putting us through schools. One day, she took me to a Toyota showroom and said, ‘Pick out a car.’ She paid cash. She was that kind of person, very generous,” said her son Todd Lawrence Morrill of Sparks. “Her family came first.”

She started selling her handbags and purses at the Bee Hive shop and the Wardrobe in Roland Park. She later approached shop owners and accessories buyers in the Village of Cross Keys.

“Her business was good and it was a fun enterprise. She was articulate and determined. But her life was her family. She reveled in her children’s successes,” said son, Frank Whitney “Whit” Morrill ll of Parkton. “She and my father were always there for our high school games and at college, too. If I were playing a lacrosse game at Washington and Lee, she and dad would be there.”

One of her workers said the business took off and her products found buyers.

“She had clients up and down the East Coast,” said Melinda Allen Hawkins, a former neighbor and friend. “We made Ultrasuede bags, cosmetic cases and handbags, and we would design belts with decorative buckles. We used pretty colors — pink and yellow and green.

“Eileen drafted a team of women to work alongside her. We had children we were raising and most of us were married. Once my children were off to school, I had the time. She would also purchase beads and we would string them for bracelets and necklaces.”

The third-floor workroom created a sense of togetherness. The business also had a name, Flings ‘n Things. She also made a collection of women’s belts with animal-shaped buckles. She sold these as Eileen’s Animals.

“It was a cottage industry,” said Nancy Young, one of the workers. “We were making jewelry and purses. One person would sew. One would sort beads. We were quite busy all the time.”

The business provided camaraderie.

“We loved every minute of it. It gave us a little extra income. It also gave us friendships,” Ms. Hawkins said. “It was a wonderful time in our lives. Eileen was smart and was quite a businesswoman. She was wonderful to work for. She found outlets for what we made. She found the little boutiques. She didn’t sell to department stores.”

She made numerous buying trips and attended jewelry conventions in Texas. On a trip to the former USSR, she carried back amber for necklaces. On a visit to a son in Paris, she bought ribbons at Le Bon Marché department store.

Mrs. Morrill ran the Manor Dance Committee at Saint James Episcopal Church. She organized spring dances and suppers.

“She always had something in her car she was selling,” said Denise Boerner, a family friend. “She was also a social organizer. She had plenty of friends. Some she worked with and some she had lunches with at the Manor Tavern or the Milton Inn. She had this infectious laugh. When she laughed, everyone laughed. She was a wonderful friend to many.”

Her son Todd Morrill said his mother used the money she made to buy a BMW.

“She was not a slow driver and loved that car. She zipped all over the place in it,” he said.

After her divorce, she spent almost a decade living in Newport, Rhode Island. She moved her business there and used the third floor of her home for the handbag and jewelry business. She also made numerous business trips to Providence, Rhode Island. She later returned to Maryland.

She closed the business and punctually picked up her grandchildren after school. She then babysat them for several hours or kept them for overnight stays.

“She was the all-encompassing mother and grandmother,” said her son, Todd Morrill.

In addition to her three sons and daughter, survivors include a brother, Donald Atkinson of Leonardtown, and three grandchildren. Although her marriage of 25 years ended in divorce, her children said she remained close with her former husband.

Services are private.

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