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Weight loss industry pioneer, businesswoman Florine Mark has died

Jewish Historical Society of Michigan

Weight loss pitchwoman and groundbreaking entrepreneur Florine Mark has died.

Over the years, Michigan television viewers became well acquainted with this phrase “Hi, I’m Florine Mark for Weight Watchers.”

Mark was synonymous with losing weight.

Though it was her own struggle with being overweight that eventually led her to wealth and fame.

Mark was born into a large family in Detroit. Her parents experienced difficult financial times when she was a child. Later in life as a young mother, Mark struggled with her weight.

In the 1960’s, Florine Mark became one of the early clients of Weight Watchers. She would travel regularly to New York to attend Weight Watchers meetings. Mark lost 40 pounds in four months, and found a calling helping others do the same.

But as she told Michigan Radio in a 2021 interview, convincing her local bank to lend her the money she needed to start her own Weight Watchers franchise proved difficult.

“I had a plan. I knew where I was going. I had everything all written out for them. A strategic plan, even before those words were very common which they are now,” said Mark. “But everything was done right. And they said no. Only if my husband signed. Because I’m a woman.”

Eventually, Weight Watchers lent Florine Mark the $5,000 she needed.

From that beginning, Mark’s Weight Watchers business grew. Eventually, she established franchises beyond Michigan into other parts of the country, as well as Canada and Mexico.

That bank that declined her first business loan later loaned her a million dollars.

As her company grew, so did Florine Mark’s influence in Michigan’s business community. She also became an inspiration for many female entrepreneurs

Carolyn Cassin said Florine Mark “paved the way” for generations of women in business.

Cassin is the founder of an investment fund that specializes in businesses run for and by women. She considers Mark her mentor.

“Everything I ever learned about business, I learned from people like Florine. Who picked me up when I made a mistake. Who told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it,” said Cassin. “She helped me to very high standards.”

Beyond business, Florine Mark dedicated herself to numerous charitable and community causes in southeast Michigan and the region’s Jewish community in particular.

You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned Florine Mark’s age.

While she was very open about her life and business, age was a subject she adamantly avoided talking about even to the extent of lying about what high school she attended, just so she could claim to be ten years younger than she was.

According to her daughter Lisa Mark Lis, it was a subject best avoided by others.

“Every time any story is written about anybody and age is always attached, she always finds that offensive. Why do they have to put their age in,” Lis said with a laugh.

We’ll let Florine Mark end this appreciation herself, with how she closed every letter she wrote.

“When I sign a letter, I always sign it 'Love, Love, Love.' Always. I put that right at the bottom of the paper. Because I think you are what you think about. If you tell yourself that you love instead of hate, you’re going to love,” said Mark.

Florine Mark’s life’s work centered on inspiring others, many to lose weight, others to do and achieve more.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.