Long-time Mercer Island resident Mildred Laurette Wynne, who had rarely crossed New York’s Hudson River until, as a 19-year-old fresh out of secretarial school, she took a job in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, died October 3, 2016, at Aegis Assisted Living in Corte Madera, CA. She was 89.
She was born in Bellevue Hospital in New York City on January 29, 1927. Though she would live either in the Middle East or on the West Coast of the U.S. for the most of her life, she would never lose her New York accent.
Within one or two sentences, other transplanted New Yorkers would always recognize her as one of their own.
Known as Millie to all, she was born into a large family (two boys, two girls) and always had a powerful wanderlust. A graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, she did some modeling on the side – even posing for Seventeen Magazine.
She spent her lunch hours thumbing through travel brochures and gazing at travel agency posters outside the Reynolds Tobacco Building on Madison Avenue in Midtown where she worked as a typist.
It was during one of these lunch hours that she spotted the “Secretaries for Saudi…” brochure that would feed that wanderlust and change her life.
The Arabian American Oil Company – as it was then known – was hiring. By “exaggerating” about her age (applicants had to be 21, Millie was 19) and re-working the date of birth on her passport, she was soon hired, received her “shipout” date and began to pack her bags.
It was left to an enterprising local newspaper reporter to break the news to the family. When the reporter called Millie’s home for a comment about her dramatic career choice a stunned Grandma Forman asked: “She did what?” And finally “where’s Saudi Arabia?”
Her typing and short hand skills – combined with a very strong work ethic, dazzling smile, can-do New York attitude and a definite “gift for gab” would serve her well during her career at ARAMCO as well as later in life at her beloved Boeing Company, from which she would eventually retire.
Millie loved a good story – whether as the storyteller or the listener. Long before Facebook or Snapchat, she was a true social media follower.
Stealing a chapter from “Some Enchanted Evening” Millie met Robert Walter Wynne shortly after arriving in Arabia – literally spotting him “across a crowded” room, mimicking a verse from the then popular song.
The secretarial school grad and the Stanford University-educated engineer married in 1947 and would eventually have four children – Geraldine, Patricia, Robert and Laurie.
The couple, and later family, traveled extensively around the Holy Land, Middle East, and Europe in the late 40’s, 50’s and early 1960’s – a time when tall, blond, blue-eyed women were a very rare sight in the markets of Dammam, Dhahran, Baghdad and Beirut.
After 15 years in “The Kingdom”, the family returned to the U.S. where Millie discovered Mercer Island near Seattle. The island would be her home from 1963 until she left for California to be with her children in 2010 – nearly 50 years.
The children would all attend Mercer Island schools. Eventually all would graduate from Mercer Island High School and one by one move away. Millie stayed, even after her husband died in 1997.
Driving along the island’s windy roads in her vintage 1958 steel grey Mercedes, (four on the tree) wearing her signature red sunglasses and colorful scarves, Millie was a familiar sight.
Late in her life she would often tell stories of her earlier days and sand storms, oil rig fires and camel caravans – unusual stuff for grandmothers to be speaking about. And all of it was due to travel posters and a desire to “get out and see what there was to see.”
Millie was preceded in death by her husband Robert, and daughter Geraldine Durkin of Tucson. She is survived by daughters Patricia Wynne, Mill Valley; Laurie Gonzalez, Mahwah, N.J.; son Robert Wynne, San Francisco and daughter-in- law Peggy Jo Wynne, San Francisco – as well as nine grandchildren and six great-grand children.
A private burial ceremony was held earlier this month in Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose, CA.