For anyone who reads this, I am sorry I have not been able to muster up the creative energy to maintain my blog posts. I suffered a great loss just after Thanksgiving that has made it difficult to focus, and I thought it would be nice to remember her by sharing the story of her legacy with you.
I will continue to share stories of my grandmother in all of my writing, I have learned so much from her and think about her everyday. But for the sake of not ruining a masterpiece, I would like to share with the world the story of her legacy, to illustrate how incredible of an impact she had to all those who knew her, especially me personally.
She was born Annie Belle Cruse, the youngest of seven children, in Luthersville, Georgia, on Oct. 5, 1922. The town population at the time: 300. Her father, Rev. Walter Seaborn Cruse, was an automobile salesman for Hudson cars in Atlanta but later felt the call to the ministry and was ordained a Methodist Circuit Preacher, serving churches throughout the state.
Her mother, May Bell Sprayberry, was a homemaker whose maiden name should be instantly recognizable to any fan of barbecue since it was Annabelle’s uncle Huston who started Sprayberry’s Barbecue Restaurant in Newnan, Georgia, in 1926. The restaurant is still there, still thriving, and, at one point, was hailed “merely the best barbecue joint on Earth” by the late columnist Lewis Grizzard. It even employed country music star Alan Jackson as a waiter.
Annabelle, along with her four sisters and two brothers, grew up in Luthersville and later in College Park. She graduated from Richardson High School, where she made her mark as the captain of the women’s varsity basketball team. In 1940, she married her first husband, Milton Chester “Buster” Jones.
It was the early years of World War II, and Buster worked for the Air Service Command at Warner Robins Air Base. He soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a machine gunner and was sent to the Pacific Campaign to fight in Saipan and Okinawa, eventually participating in the occupation of Japan at Nagasaki. After coming home and then a brief return to active duty during the Korean War, Buster parlayed his experience in electroplating into his own business, Dixie Industrial Finishing Company, in 1959. That business is still thriving to this day, guided by Annabelle and Buster’s son Jim Jones as vice-president. In 2005, over 50 years after its founding, the business was recognized as “Manufacturer of the Year” in the state of Georgia.
During her marriage to Buster, Annabelle was first a homemaker, devoted to raising their two children, Jim and Dana Jean Jones (now Dana Tomarken). When Buster returned from active service and, as was the case with many returning veterans, had a difficult time finding work, Annabelle entered the business world, starting as a salesperson in Davison’s department store (later to become Macy’s), rapidly working her way up to buyer and merchandise executive.
In 1955, Annabelle and Buster divorced. In 1956, while she was in New York for Fashion Week, she met Joseph Heiferman, a traveling salesman in the costume jewelry business. They started dating. A year later, at a friend’s wedding, Joe turned to Annabelle and said, “Let’s just get married now,” and they did, in Las Vegas at the famous “Little White Chapel.” Soon after their wedding, Joe, who later became a vice-president of Monet Jewelry, brought Annabelle and her daughter Dana all the way to Beverly Hills, California, and the family grew to include daughter Tobi (now Tobi Blatt), son David, and daughter Carolyn from Joe’s previous marriage.
The moment Annabelle arrived in her new community, a very long way from Luthersville, Georgia, she devoted herself to it. Her first efforts were in the area of education. She joined the local PTA, the PTA Council board, and she started the Safe Route Home from School Program. Then, when schools began suffering from slashed budgets due to Proposition 13, she joined the Beverly Hills Education Foundation, becoming Trustee and Endowment Co-Chairperson, making sure enough funds were raised to keep local education at the highest level possible. Soon, her work extended to nearly every corner of the community: she became a founding board member of Beverly Hills Meals on Wheels, providing home-delivered meals to those in need, a Membership Chairperson of the League of Women Voters, a board member of the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Cancer Society, board member of the Westside Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Beverly Hills Municipal League, Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Committee on Police Facilities and Services, Youth Drug Advisory Board, Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee, The Maple Center, City of Hope, Children’s Hospital, United Way, United Jewish Welfare, Junior Blind, Immaculate Heart College, Support Little League, public television station KCET, Boy Scouts of America, and Cedars-Sinai Helping Hands. And she adopted a new religion. Since Joe was Jewish and it was decided that her son David would be bar mitzvahed, Annabelle went through the formal conversion process to Judaism.
Later, she became a founding member of the Beverly Hills Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a member of MADD’s Los Angeles Executive Board, and a founding member of Arrive Alive. This became a deeply personal mission after tragedy struck in her own family, when David died in an automobile accident at the age of 22. After his death, Annabelle and Joe started the David Heiferman Memorial Scholarship Fund at Beverly Hills High School, which gives a yearly college scholarship to two graduating seniors who have demonstrated a commitment to community service.
One of the constants in Annabelle’s own commitment to community service was advocating passionately for senior citizens. She used to say, “If you want people to be happy, you have to care.” And because she did, she became president of the Beverly Hills Senior Adult Association, leading an effort to build affordable, federally subsidized housing for senior citizens in the city. Once Annabelle was elected mayor of Beverly Hills in 1984, the housing development was a reality.
As only the third female mayor in the city’s history, presiding over a city council that for the first time included a majority of women, Annabelle was very familiar with the glass ceiling. However, while she maintained that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man and that a woman in power “can’t even afford to stub [her] toe,” she also firmly believed that “it’s not a woman’s world or a man’s world, it’s our world.” And with this belief she led by bringing people together and staying focused on the core issues without regard for political expediency or scoring points. When forces clashed, she’d find unique solutions. When businesses and residents were arguing over efforts to bring more revenue to the city without generating more traffic, Mayor Annabelle Heiferman offered up a solution: two-hour free parking. It was simple: it would cut down on gridlock, since cars wouldn’t have to circle the streets searching for a place to park, the main concern for residents, and it would lure more shoppers to the area. “A Beverly Hills shopper doesn’t mind spending $1,000 for a suit, $100 for a shirt… But he hates spending money to park his car,” she said. And she was right, and to this day, anyone who hasn’t paid for parking in the city of Beverly Hills owes a debt of gratitude to Annabelle Heiferman.
When her term as mayor ended and all of her children and grandchildren had grown, Annabelle, with her husband Joe, retired to Rancho Santa Fe, California. There, she became a great-grandmother and an even prouder mother. Her daughter Tobi started her own thriving business, Tobi Blatt, a line of boutique clothing stores in the San Diego area; her daughter Dana Tomarken, after years of service on the Beverly Hills Board of Education and raising record funds for countless charities, became a leader in the music industry as vice-president of the Recording Academy’s Grammy and MusiCares Foundations; and her son Jim continued to guide the business started by his father over 50 years ago into one of the premier electroplating companies in the United States.
And Annabelle, settled in her new hometown of Rancho Santa Fe, soon engaged in one of her final acts of community service. She donated to a local bakery the secret recipe for her late sister Elizabeth’s one-of-a-kind, most-delicious, family-favorite, triple-layer chocolate cake. Her family was shocked. But they understood. And, of course, it’s a local hit.
Nobody who ever met Annabelle Heiferman walked away without an “I love you” from her, and that included people she had just met, and through it all, even as she battled illness, she remained committed to her life and every person in it. She was deeply loved and will be deeply missed and never forgotten.