Atlanta designer who died from coronavirus known for her entrepreneurial spirit

In her final days, Martha Mangold’s family visited through the first-floor window of the eldercare facility where she was being treated for Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Mangold, a mother of four known for her entrepreneurial spirit, died on April 17, succumbing to complications of COVID-19.

She was 83.

Mother to four daughters — Caroline, Margaret, Mary Ellen and Pinky — she was described by family as a true independent, the type of woman who today might find fame as a lifestyle influencer. Mangold was bilingual, a good cook, a tasteful interior designer, and an indefatigable businesswoman who also happened to be a model featured in Atlanta Magazine’s “Legendary Beauties of Atlanta” issue in 1967. “She was an intellectual,” said her oldest daughter, Caroline Nolen. “She was very intelligent and well-read.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1936, Mangold’s first language was Spanish and her Latin heritage was an important part of her life. Family from Chile often visited or stayed in the Mangold house, and Mangold’s mother lived with her family for “at least 10 years,” said Pinky deButts, her youngest daughter. As an adult, Mangold would use her connections in Chile to start an import business for furniture and other household items.

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Mangold’s father was a U.S. diplomat and her mother a native Chilean. When he retired from the diplomatic service in 1941, the family moved to Gainesville, Florida, where her father took a teaching position at the University of Florida. Mangold was the youngest of four and still in high school when her father fully retired, subsequently moving the family to St. Augustine. Bored in what she saw as a sleepy community of retirees, she graduated early from high school and went to the then all-female Brenau College. She later transferred to the University of Georgia where she earned a degree in design and was a classmate of Dan Carithers, the legendary interior designer known first for his work as the home furnishings design director at Rich’s Department Store before founding his own acclaimed design firm. Through her relationship with Carithers, Mangold would help design and decorate the holiday displays at Rich’s for years.

Mangold worked as a designer and model in Atlanta, modeling off and on, for more than 10 years. In 1965, she married Neal Mangold, her husband of 55 years. Caroline was born the next year, and Mangold stayed busy. “She had a restless nature,” said deButts. “She had so much creativity, she was a jack of all trades. She would hang wallpaper by herself, she was a great seamstress … She could do anything.”

Mangold’s entrepreneurial streak led her to start a number of businesses. For years, she made and sold dresses to her daughters’ classmates at Westminster and Pace Academy through a service called By Invitation Only. For occasions like prom and other formal events, she would design and hand make more than two dozen couture dresses, then have her daughters model them for neighbors and classmates. Mangold’s dresses sold out every year.

She was also an excellent cook, and at one point had a business called Mom’s Night Out. She would sell reheatable casseroles to families decades before meal-kit delivery services were common.

In 1995, Mangold began her most prominent business developing and remodeling homes on Lake Oconee. She would build or buy lake houses, design and decorate them, then sell the houses fully furnished. She also worked as an interior design consultant.

Though she was a woman of many talents and achievements, her daughters say that she would be most proud of her role as a mother. They describe her as a stern but loving figure, the mom that other moms would call for advice. “She was very kind; extremely sympathetic and compassionate,” said Nolen.

“She was the most proud of us,” said deButts through tears. “She was very proud of her work at Lake Oconee … But she was most proud of her family.”

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Martha Mangold