Mary Lou Weiss, the longtime manager of the Torrance farmers markets, died Saturday morning at her home in Hermosa Beach. She was 75, and suffered cardiac arrest as a result of a pulmonary embolism, said her husband, Jim.
She was an indomitable and much-beloved figure in the farmers market world beginning in April 1991, when she started managing the Torrance farmers market, which was then held only on Tuesdays. She established a Saturday market at the same location, in Charles H. Wilson Park, on March 7, 1992.
“We knew within a month’s time that we had a winner,” she said in an interview in her office in March.
The Saturday market is now the third largest in the Southland, after Santa Monica and Hollywood, and is considered one of the best for its wide selection of both ethnic and mainstream produce.
Weiss brooked no nonsense, but had a genuine human touch in dealing with farmers and customers. She was always very active in farmers market governance, and served for three terms, one of them as chair, on the state Certified Farmers’ Market Advisory Committee. She served as a mentor to a generation of new market managers and recently took the lead role in establishing a state training program for managers.
“She was always there when I needed her, always willing to take the time to help,” said Greta Dunlap, manager of the Beverly Hills farmers market.
Weiss had planned to retire in August and said in a phone interview Thursday that she was looking forward to training her successor. Several candidates, including some well-known figures in the farmers market world, have applied for the position, which will be chosen by the City of Torrance Community Services Department.
Mary Lou Haag was born Jan. 27, 1938, on a farm in Canal Fulton, Ohio; her mother was unable to make it to the hospital because the snow that day was 6 feet deep, she said. Her mother, Viola, was a homemaker, and her father, Harold, was a farmer and truck driver.
She was educated at an old-fashioned country school with three rooms for the first eight grades, and later attended Kent State University for two years. She worked as a dental assistant, and then at Eastern Airlines in Chicago, where she met Jim, who became her second husband. They moved to Hermosa Beach in 1971.
In 1990 she started the Hermosa Beach farmers market, which remained close to her heart, although she opened many markets around the South Bay and other areas, including Palos Verdes, Lawndale, Carson, Manhattan Beach, Agoura Hills, Pierce College and Lomita. Her son Brian, a police officer and member of the SWAT team in Redondo Beach, also runs the Palos Verdes farmers market.
In addition to her husband of 41 years, who grows orchids that he sells at the Torrance market, and her son, she is survived by her sister, Susan Burton of Canton, Ohio; her son Steven, a firefighter in Kern County; and two grandchildren, Nikki and Jake.