It’s been said that Margaret “Marge” Dolan lived large.
She read 10 books a week, had nine children and when she divorced, she raced back to the University of Minnesota and earned the accounting degree that let her create an entirely new investigative field — coupon fraud analysis — for General Mills.
“She was an amazing lady,” said her daughter Peggy Bell.
Dolan, 78, died in her sleep on Feb. 9 in her Minneapolis home after two years of lung problems.
Dolan will be missed for her fabulous laugh and many contributions to the arts, politics, business and family. She sang in several church choirs and was a beloved docent at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She was appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson and served four years on the State Board of Community Colleges. And she was the longest-serving Minneapolis city charter commissioner.
But one of her strongest imprints was left at General Mills, where some of her analytical techniques are still used.
Dolan joined General Mills in the late 1970s and wrote the first software to analyze how grocers redeemed coupons nationwide. Her program then cross-referenced that data against local population data to uncover fraud or untapped sales opportunities.
“She saved General Mills a lot of money,” Bell said. “She really pioneered that field. Before that, they had no real way of identifying where coupon fraud was taking place and what it was costing them.”
Her children were not surprised by her work. As a single mom supporting her seven surviving children, Dolan knew coupons and analyzed budgets like a champ. “She never bought anything retail. Ever. Ever!” said her youngest son, Timothy. Such shopping smarts spanned decades.
“She would go to three grocery stores on a single day to make sure she got the best deal at each store — the free eggs at Rainbow and the two for one [soda] at Cub and so on,” said her oldest daughter Mary Kalinowski. “We just found five pounds of butter in her freezer because she found them on sale.”
Such planning conquered lean times and helped spoil others when the paychecks grew. “Christmas was a splurge,” Timmy said. “Everybody always got a gift. She never missed anybody’s birthday” despite having seven children, 15 grandkids, two brothers and a sister, and many friends.
Dolan was equally dedicated to arts and politics. As one of four children born to a railroad worker and a secretary, Dolan grew up in Duluth and St. Paul and often sat at the dining room table munching on carrots and celery and talking art, news and politics. As an adult, the witty Dolan still devoured news and politics but ultimately made Minneapolis her home and political epicenter.
“She called herself a feminist Republican and then she would laugh as if there could never be such a thing,” said her sister Katherine McLaughlin. “But she was a feminist. She was part of the feminist caucus in the Republican Party.”
Dolan adored local politics. She toiled for community colleges, was a mentor and one of 15 Minneapolis charter commissioners and a faithful election judge. She earned fame in 2008 as a no-nonsense vote counter who helped settle the senate ballot debacle for Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
Dolan is survived by her children: Mary Kalinowski, Richard, Peggy Bell, Peter, Philip, Timothy, Katie Hansen; 15 grandchildren, her sister Katherine and brothers Philip McLaughlin and Pat McLaughlin.
Visitation and services begin at 10 a.m. Friday at Church of Christ the King in Minneapolis.