Most wouldn't guess it, but a sizeable number of weapons used by police officers in the western United States can be traced to a Santa Rosa business operated until recently by a grandmother whose regular customers called her "Mom."
Her name was Beatrice Markell, and until her death on April 19 at the age of 87, she happily presided over Markell Inc., a police and fire supply company with worldwide headquarters in the Mark West area.
Beatrice held the title of president and CEO at the company that her late husband, William "Al" Markell, founded in San Francisco in 1952.
"She definitely was the oldest woman gun dealer in California," said Guy Markell who, with his mother's death, now inherits the family business.
Beatrice had been sent home after doctors told her there was nothing more they could do to treat her congestive heart failure. Ever the stoic, she ate a sandwich and sipped a Budweiser for lunch the day before she died. Her son and two surviving daughters were with her in her final moments.
"It was very graceful," Guy Markell said. "She knew it was time to go. She had no regrets. She was looking forward to being with her father in heaven."
He said his mother enjoyed "family, casinos and Budweiser, in that order." She favored the penny slots and an occasional game of blackjack. As for the drink, she consumed Bud daily in two six-ounce pours, divided between lunch and dinner.
A registered Republican, she rarely involved herself in politics. And according to her son, she never felt threatened operating a gun business in liberal-leaning Sonoma County.
"Her only complaint in life was taxes," Guy Markell said.
Beatrice Olson was born in Sandcreek, Wis., on July 26, 1926, one of three children to Arthur and Mable Olson, who were farmers. In 1940, the family moved to California and Arthur went to work in the shipyards at Mare Island.
Beatrice's husband, Al, started the weapons supply business in 1952 after he left behind careers as a San Francisco police officer and as a purchasing agent for Eastman Kodak. He took over sole ownership of the business in 1957 after buying out the company's shareholders.
Beatrice held down two accounting jobs to support the family after a garbage truck ran over Al's car and broke his back. He died in the 1970s.
Guy Markell said his mother endured losing three of her six children, including an infant who died in the crib. But he said she never complained.
"She just put one foot in front of the other," he said.
She moved the weapon supply business to Santa Rosa in 1987. It still supplies guns, tear gas, flashlights, uniforms and other equipment to police and firefighters. The general public also is welcome at the small storefront on Mark West Springs Road.
Guy Markell said his mother preferred mace to owning a gun for her own self-protection, saying she was not a "paranoid" person.
Besides her son, Beatrice Markell is survived by two daughters, Diane Lujan of Santa Rosa and Donna Markell of Bellingham, Wash.
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Lafferty & Smith Colonial Chapel in Santa Rosa. Inurnment will be private at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.