Isabelle George, matriarch of the George family that founded Bell Music and Akron’s iconic Tangier restaurant, died Tuesday at age 101.
Mrs. George was born Isabelle David in Massillon, the oldest daughter in a family of 13 children, born to Lebanese immigrant parents, Joseph and Marie David.
Her husband, Ed George Sr., was an orphan who came to Akron from Lebanon in 1929. He made his fortune founding Bell Music Co. and later the Tangier.
They married when she was 26 and had eight children, who survive her. Also surviving are 35 grandchildren and 64 great-grandchildren.
“The best thing about Mom was her devotion to family. That was her whole life,” said Sandy Boarman of Copley Township, the youngest of her children.
Boarman noted that three more great-grandchildren are on the way, which will push the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren over 100. “What a beautiful tribute to her life; that was her pride and joy,” she said.
Mrs. George was 55 when she began working at the restaurant, after her own children were raised.
The Tangier’s first location on East Exchange Street opened in 1948 and burned down in 1958. It reopened at the current West Market Street location, and eventually expanded into a 2,000-seat restaurant and nightclub that became the crown jewel of the Akron dining scene in the 1970s.
In an August 2011 interview, just days before her 100th birthday, Mrs. George recalled how in 1966, on a day when the restaurant was particularly busy and her husband was shorthanded, he called and asked her to come down to help out.
She never left, starting a 35-year career at the Tangier that lasted until she retired in 2001 at age 90. Her son, Ed Jr., and several of his daughters now run the restaurant.
“Mom found a whole life outside of being the beautiful homemaker that she was,” Boarman said. “It added another dimension to her life.”
Her husband died in December 1976, but she remained at the restaurant, working in the office. During her tenure, Mrs. George hobnobbed with comedian Danny Thomas, President George H.W. Bush and exercise guru Richard Simmons.
Boarman said her mother would spend hours at the restaurant, and was daunted only by the new computers that arrived at the restaurant. “She had a hard time adjusting to that, but she was determined she was going to learn it,” she said.
Mrs. George was a devoted fan of Akron native Paige Palmer, whose exercise program was a fixture on Cleveland television and whom she also had the opportunity to meet at the Tangier.
“She was very healthy. She was on very few medications even in her old age. The doctors were always amazed at how healthy she was. Even at the hospice they told us, ‘You don’t live to be 101 unless you are one strong person,’ ” Boarman said.
Mrs. George died in hospice care early Tuesday morning. She had remained in her home until nine days prior to her passing. “We were determined to keep her home,” Boarman said.
In her August 2011 interview, Mrs. George attributed her long life to her years of exercise, a healthy Middle Eastern diet, hard work and her strong Catholic faith.
Boarman said she and her siblings have been reminiscing about their mother, and none of them could recall any funny stories about her. “We laughed, because she wasn’t that funny. She was all business, hard work and no play, although she did love to play cards, she played bridge every night and she was, when she was younger, one heck of a bowler,” Boarman said. “She loved to cook, she loved to clean, but at the end, she loved that restaurant and she loved to work.”
A Mass of Christian Burial will be 10 a.m. Friday at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Akron. Calling hours are 3 to 8 p.m. today at the Ciriello & Carr Funeral Home, 39 S. Miller Road, Fairlawn.
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.