At a time when women in the workplace were relegated to secretarial work, Elizabeth "Betty" Jane Burmeister was helping to seal contracts between film and music stars and one of the country's premier advertising agencies.
Whether it was refusing to institutionalize her daughter, who had Down syndrome, or taking her place among male colleagues, Burmeister defied the expectations of her time, said her family.
"My mom was a pioneer," said her son, photojournalist Steve Burmeister. "My mom just had a different mind-set about all those kinds of things in life."
Burmeister, of Minneapolis, died Dec. 27 from injuries she suffered when paramedics performed CPR on her after she choked on Christmas Day. She was 99.
She was born in Montevideo, Minn., in 1921 to Leroy and Genevieve Wisner.
She gave birth to her daughter, Sue, in 1945. Incapable of dealing with Sue's Down syndrome, Burmeister's first husband abandoned the family.
"She said, 'Well, bullshit. I'm going to make the best life for my daughter,' " said her daughter-in-law, Minnesota author Wendy Webb. "Nothing got her down, even though life threw these curveballs at her."
Doctors recommended that she institutionalize Sue, but Burmeister refused. When she learned that there were programs for people with Down syndrome in Sacramento, Calif., Burmeister, her parents and Sue moved out West, where Burmeister worked at Sacramento's first TV station.
The family returned to Montevideo about a year-and-a-half later. Burmeister, her parents or paid live-in aides cared for Sue for the rest of her nearly 70 years.
"My mom was the ultimate caregiver," said Steve Burmeister. "She just knew how to do it and knew it was the right thing to do."
Her commitment to family didn't stop her from going to work in the 1950s at Campbell Mithun, a highly regarded Twin Cities advertising agency. It was there that she pioneered a system of paying talent for using their voice or likeness to sell goods. The system remains in use today.
"When [the payment system] began to flourish, she would come home and joke, 'Yeah, I wrote a million-dollar check to [pro golfer] Arnold Palmer,' " said her son. " 'Yeah, I rode up in the elevator with Vanna White — really, really sweet girl.' "
Steve Burmeister said his mother sat in on creative meetings during her 35 years at the agency, now known as McCann Minneapolis. She was having martinis at lunch in downtown Minneapolis with co-workers one day when an illustrator drew the famous Hamm's Beer mascot on a cocktail napkin, he said.
She married Albert Burmeister, a pilot and entrepreneur, in 1961, and they had son Steve.
After retiring from Campbell Mithun, Burmeister worked for General Mills and Sound 80 into her late 80s. She helped ink contracts with stars, including Elton John and Beyoncé.
Burmeister was preceded in death by Albert and Sue. She is survived by her son and daughter-in-law.
Services will be held sometime this summer in Montevideo; a gathering will also be held on what would have been her 100th birthday — Sept. 21.