Lois Gibbons, a waitress-turned-baker who created a Baltimore dessert phenomenon, Mrs. Posé’s cheesecake, died of complications of a blood clot June 24 at The Palms in Sebring, Florida. The former Baldwin resident was 93.
Her customers debated whether to pronounce her name Mrs. Po-ZAY or Po-ZEE at the restaurants where her cream cheese-rich cake established itself on 1960s menus. Her dessert was so well regarded that restaurateurs advised their patrons, “We serve Mrs. Posé’s cheesecake.”
Born Lois Lawrence in Fordham in The Bronx, in New York City, she grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut. Her mother died when she was 2 years old, and she was raised by a second cousin.
She moved to Baltimore in 1955 and soon began working as a waitress at the old Eager House, the Chesapeake, Harvey House and Town House.
“I wanted to support my kids,” she said in a 2008 Baltimore Sun story. “My marriage wasn’t working.”
She also worked the lunch hour at the old Love’s Restaurant, at 25th and Charles. One day she brought her homemade cheesecake to work. The owners liked the taste and soon the patrons did, too. She then started baking the cheesecake at her Upnor Road home in Govans. She first made the cake as an after-school treat for her children and started the business in 1962.
The cake developed a following throughout Little Italy and at The Prime Rib a few years later. She bought an extra oven for her Govans kitchen. If she got swamped with orders, she improvised with neighbors’ ovens and paid them $5.
“I grew up in Connecticut, where cheesecake was the main dessert in local restaurants. Yet when I moved to Baltimore in the late ’50s, no one had it on menus,” she said. “I knew that if I could perfect a recipe, then I could start selling my cheesecakes to area restaurants.”
She combined a rich cheesecake recipe from a Viennese co-worker with a lighter one from a sister-in-law. Thus the original Posé cheesecake recipe came to be. She said it tasted “like ice cream.”
“I was always a worker,” she said in 2008, adding that when orders for her cakes began coming in, she had to dash out to the old Hochschild Kohn’s store at Belvedere Square for extra springform pans.
She personally delivered her cakes that she loaded into the back of a 1962 Ford station wagon.
“She got a publicity lift when a New York Mirror writer tasted her cheesecake at the old Chesapeake Restaurant, and wrote a column about her hard work. She went into cheesecake making full time after her divorce from city police officer Donald Posey. She modified it to Posé (and pronounces it Po-ZAY),” the 2008 article said.
“I am surprised that I’ve outlived Silber’s and Rice’s bakeries,” she said in 2008. “I had a lot of energy, and if somebody said, ‘I need 50 cakes by tomorrow,' I would not turn them down.”
After moving out of her Govans home kitchen, she took over two commercial bakeries. Her father helped her purchase her own bakery after learning that Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt, who had owned Pimlico Race Course and Sagamore Farms, was having the Posé cheesecake flown to New York for his parties.
She later expanded her cheesecake to flavored varieties and also made brownies, cakes, tiramisu and chocolate ganache. She named her bakery the Original Cheesecake Posé. It is now the Posé Bakery on Old Milford Mill Road in Pikesville.
“The cheesecake was amazing,” said caterer and restaurateur Gail Kaplan. “It was also revolutionary for the time. I was in the restaurant business and we had our bakers on the premises. But she learned how to mass-produce a delicious product and sell it all over town. And she was local.
“She didn’t personally get much publicity other than word of mouth, but it was big word of mouth,” said Ms. Kaplan, the daughter of Leon Shavitz, a founder of the Pimlico Hotel and Nate’s and Leon’s delicatessen. “She was a true professional in the hospitality business. She was like our Claudia Coffee, who invented salad. Lois had worked in Baltimore’s great old restaurants. It was a different time in the restaurant business and she was the real thing.”
She expanded her product line with different cheesecake flavors but found some did not sell well. The duds included white-chocolate, hazelnut and banana creme. But brownies and black-bottom and Oreo cheesecakes were hits.
After being a hands-on baker, she retired to Florida, where she took up golf and played it with her husband, Joseph Gibbons. She spent summers in the Baltimore area and had a membership at the Sparrows Point Country Club.
“I took over the [cheesecake] business in 1990,” said her daughter, Susan Posey, a Lutherville resident. “My mother was creative and talented and she liked to work. Even after she moved to Florida, she made golf hats. She had energy and was always busy. And before bedtime, she always had her little bloody mary.”
Her family often called her Scarlett, after Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.”
“I felt like Scarlett when she ate that dirty turnip and said, ‘As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again,' I was going to show ‘em,” she said in a 2003 Sun article.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include her husband of 52 years, Joseph Gibbons, who worked alongside her after leaving a post at Black & Decker; two other daughters, Kathy Blimline of Carney and Jeannie Gibbons of Cumberland; and six grandchildren. A son, Kevin Posey, died in 2018.