by Ándria Morgan - MarCom Specialist
ELEANOR DUFFY WAS A SELF-TAUGHT BUSINESSWOMAN, HUMANITARIAN, WWII VETERAN, and co-founder of Per Mar Security Services in Davenport, Iowa.
She dedicated her life to empowering women, advancing our industry and supporting the community and economy of the Quad Cities.
Eleanor started Per Mar with her husband John Duffy in 1953, but before Per Mar was even an idea — let alone an operating business — she enlisted in the war.
She had a strong desire to travel, see the world and serve her country. She was a member of the Women’s Army Corps. This experience would later enhance her interviewing skills.
Per Mar initially offered market research and investigation services, and over the next fifty years the company expanded its services to include: polygraph services, alarms, security and undercover services, security officers, fire protection and more.
As a wife, mother and business owner, she worked against expectations that she be a stay-at-home housewife. And not only this, she employed women and gave them part-time work opportunities outside of the home.
Eleanor invested in people, especially the women at Per Mar, regardless of education level. She promoted and mentored women from within the company. She believed it was important to take a chance on those who stood out.
“She saw potential in people regardless of gender, race or age, and this was reflected in her hiring and mentoring of people without educational and business pedigrees,” says Brendon Duffy, Eleanor’s grandson.
These women included Joan Seifers, vice president of marketing research, Gloria Whittemore, vice president of research, and Linda Brus (Duffy), personnel director.
Through working closely with Eleanor, Linda, who would eventually become Eleanor’s daughter-in-law, chose to focus on the alarm industry — false alarms and their effect on business.
EVEN THOUGH MARKET RESEARCH was a big part of Eleanor’s focus, she and John knew the company couldn’t just be about one thing. They were always looking to tap into new areas and markets. In 1967, Per Mar entered the electronic security space when they added electronic security and fire alarm services.
John and Eleanor Duffy complemented each other well. They were always involved in the business together making the big decisions, as equals.
The false alarm project had an effect on business beyond Per Mar. The Per Mar false alarm program helped reduce the number of false alarms in the area and received widespread attention, including a feature on 20/20.
“Oftentimes, people assume that the male in the relationship was the business person who really got the business off the ground, says Brendon. “But I think Eleanor was the driving force behind my grandparents starting their own business — and the one who really had the most business sense to make
a business successful.”
With a servant’s heart, Eleanor instilled customer service as a priority for the business.
“If you don’t take care of the cow,” she said, “there won’t be any milk to argue about.”
“My parents never said ‘no’ to a customer as long as the request was legal, moral, and made good business sense,” says Michael Duffy, Eleanor and John’s oldest son, and current CEO of Per Mar.
ELEANOR WAS A DOER. Whenever she had a challenge in her life, she made things happen, including her diagnosis with diabetes in 1955.
The disease wasn’t widespread or even commonplace during this time, so Eleanor became an advocate for diabetes awareness and education. She organized a test for all 72 employees. Eight tested positive.
She played a pivotal role in the founding of the Quad-Cities Diabetes Association in 1971. She also created cookbooks with diabetic-friendly recipes for people in the community.
Eleanor wasn’t just a great woman, she was a great person.
“She was generous with her time, her money and her knowledge. She inspired others to give their best for the greater good,” says Brendon.
Eleanor Duffy passed in 1989. Because of her contributions in the Quad Cities, and Eleanor’s dedication to empowering women, grandchildren, Brendon Duffy and Bridget (Duffy) Murphy nominated her for the YWCA of the Quad Cities’ “100 Years, 100 Honored” award in November 2017.
The award “honors 100 individuals and organizations — past and present — who have shared its mission of building strong communities.”
Eleanor was honored amongst thirteen other posthumous awards. Bridget accepted the award on her grandmother’s behalf.