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Louise Feuerstein, 76; worked with husband to rebuild Malden Mills after fire

“She was involved in every decision,’’ Aaron Feuerstein said of the role his wife, Louise, played in reviving Malden Mills in Lawrence.
“She was involved in every decision,’’ Aaron Feuerstein said of the role his wife, Louise, played in reviving Malden Mills in Lawrence. courtesy of Feuerstein family

After a fire destroyed the Malden Mills factory in Lawrence in 1995, Louise Feuerstein became an integral part of reviving a business that had been in her husband’s family for nearly a century.

“We thought it was our obligation to rebuild,” said Aaron Feuerstein, then chief executive of the company his grandfather opened 1906. “Louise was with me 100 percent. She was involved in every decision.”

She was determined to replace the complex with a structure unlike the metal-
sided, windowless factories that were common in the manufacturing world. The result looked more like a college campus than a textile plant, combining modern and historical design. The National Trust for Historic Preservation presented an award honoring the Feuersteins’ work.

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“Louise was wonderful to work with; she cared deeply about quality of life,” said Gerry Frank, an architect on the project. “She really appreciated design and how important it would be for the workers to have a sense of history.”

Eva Louise Woodhead Feuerstein died of ovarian cancer Sept. 13 in her Brookline home. She was 76 and had spent half her time at a second home in Berlin.

“Her whole life was dedicated to beauty and art,” Feuerstein said of his wife, who meticulously restored the couple’s Berlin house. “She beautified everything she touched.”

That was also true at Malden Mills, he said.

After the fire, he kept employees on the payroll during the rebuilding and became a national symbol for doing the right thing in an era when many manufacturing businesses were shrinking or moving operations out of the country. His approach was considered especially commendable because insurance money would have allowed him to close the business and retire comfortably, an option he said he never considered.

His wife, he said, was his stalwart partner in the Malden Mills reconstruction. Mrs. Feuerstein, who had developed expertise in textiles and antique rugs, was working with her husband as head of one of the mill’s textile divisions at the time of the fire.

In the aftermath, Frank said, she saw “an opportunity to build a better environment for employees.”

Frank added that no one would have blamed the Feuersteins “if they said, ‘We can’t afford to waste time on design; we just need to get this building up,’ and just put up a metal-
sided building.”

Mrs. Feuerstein, he said, insisted that the design incorporate windows that let in plenty of natural light and space that would “showcase the company’s products,” including fabrics of all types and colors.

She also was adamant that the reconstruction preserve a stair tower, which was all that remained of the charred buildings. Frank recalled that Mrs. Feuerstein said: “This is an important symbol; how can we incorporate it into the project?”

That led to many trips “traipsing up and down the tower with her” during the renovation, he said, adding that Mrs. Feuerstein’s partnership with her husband was “incredible and unusual.”

“They complemented each other really well,” Frank said. “Their core beliefs were right in sync.”

Malden Mills was best known as the original manufacturer of Polartec fleece and other outerwear products. Financial troubles in years after the fire led to bankruptcy. In 2007, the company was sold and its name changed to Polartec LLC.

Mrs. Feuerstein created and ran the Malden Mills Retail Store. She also helped run a division of Malden Mills that sold velvet upholstery fabrics.

Eva Louise Godfrey was born in Logan, Utah, the daughter of a physician who died when she was 5. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, she enrolled in a master’s program at Utah State University, during which she spent a year in Denmark, where “her love for art and beauty really flourished,” her husband said.

After graduating with a master’s in education, she taught at Vassar College in New York and later worked as an assistant in the sociology department at Harvard University.

Her first marriage, to William Woodhead, ended in divorce. She was flying from Salt Lake City to Boston in 1984 when she met Aaron Feuerstein, a widower with three grown children.

“My seat was in the row behind her, but I had my eye on her, and I moved up,” he said. “I introduced myself, and we talked the whole way to Boston.”

By then Mrs. Feuerstein had changed careers. A lifelong love of textiles led her to the Skinner international auction house in Marlborough, where she was an appraiser and head of the antique rug department.

They married in 1988.

“She was incredibly bright and intellectually superior,” Feuerstein said.

A service has been held for Mrs. Feuerstein, who in addition to her husband leaves two stepsons, Daniel of Chicago and Raphael of Brookline; a stepdaughter, Joyce of Cotuit; and two brothers, Robert Godfrey of Boise, Idaho, and David Godfrey of Salt Lake City.

Mrs. Feuerstein was “lovely, calm, focused, and brilliant,” said Joni Bergen of Berlin, an artist and longtime friend. “She was such a supportive friend. She really knew how to bring out the best in people.”

Noting that Mrs. Feuerstein “had an artist’s sensibility,” she said her friend “appreciated and valued beautiful things.” Bergen called the Berlin home a “tour de force.”

Aaron Feuerstein said his wife planned the reconstruction of that house, part of which was built in the Revolutionary War era and part built around the Civil War, so it would be “exactly the way it had been.”

She wove “every rug in every room” by herself, he said. “She made the yarn, dyed the wool, and did all her own weaving, as well as knitting. And she made all the drapes and upholstery.”

He added that “everything she did was in accordance with conservation and preservation, and I daresay today it’s one of the finest estates in Berlin.”

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