The Face of L.L.Bean – Ethel Williams

On Administrative Professionals Appreciation Day we honor and celebrate those who help every organization run smoothly. Whether working for a school, a hospital or a big corporation, administrative pros are the people who hold the infrastructure together, day in and day out. Without them, to-do lists could never be checked off as quickly, and projects would never progress so efficiently. Case in point: Ethel Williams, who as Leon Leonwood Bean’s secretary made countless contributions to the growth of L.L.Bean.



Dependable and intelligent, Ethel was L.L.’s right-hand woman for all business matters. To that point, Leon Gorman, L.L.’s grandson and author of L.L.Bean: The Making of an American Icon, wrote,


“It was a wonder the company functioned at all. In fact, it did because in reality it was being run by Ethel and Jessie Beal, L.L.’s son Carl’s secretary. If you wanted to get something done, you worked through the two of them.”


As told in our anniversary book, Guaranteed to Last, Ethel handled more than her job title implied. She ran everything from catalog production to the advertising program. It was well known that to secure L.L.’s approval on big ideas and projects, you went to Ethel, who acted as his gatekeeper.


In fact, many credit Ethel with the company’s revival in the ’60s. It was during this time that styles were changing and L.L.Bean’s products were becoming dated, but L.L. still refused to alter the offerings in the catalogs. With Leon Gorman’s help, Ethel convinced L.L. to okay a 32-page Christmas circular that modernized the company’s lineup.


L.L. Bean and Ethel Williams


To top off her list of achievements, Ethel helped the young Leon Gorman (who later became the company’s president) bring strategy and coherence to the spring and fall catalogs. Of this, he wrote, “Ethel and I built racks and paperboard page holders on which we laid out all 100-plus pages of whatever catalog we were working on…. Overall we made the catalog easier to use and, I believe, more informative.” Over the course of her 38-year career, Ethel was more than L.L.’s secretary – she was his pillar of strength.


To all administrative professionals like our own Ethel Williams, we’d like to take this opportunity to say thank-you for all you do. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.


Do you work with an administrative professional who makes your job run much more smoothly? What are some of your stories about the people at work who have helped you along the way? Share with us below, and we’ll donate $1 to our Million Moment Mission to celebrate our 100th year.


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