Carrie Dee Ingram Coleman made women feel beautiful.
After growing up in a family of 11 kids — –and helping to raise seven of them after her father left — she went to beauty school and impressed the Gardner family, founders of Soft Sheen. They hired her to demonstrate the company’s hair products all over the world.
“Miss Dee” eventually opened her own one-stop spa, Dee’s Enterprise, at 10016 S. Western. Women would go there to get their hair styled, their skin exfoliated and moisturized and their hands and feet pampered and painted.
Clients shopped for designer clothing in its boutique and bought Mrs. Coleman’s own line of Exclusive Cosmetics, with more than 400 products she created to flatter African-American complexions. She gave her lipsticks names like Sassy Red and Eloquent Pink.
“I ain’t no ‘That’ll do you’ woman,” she’d say.
“She took girls from their prom to their wedding days,” said her goddaughter Jaquie Algee.
Mrs. Coleman, who during a 50-year career counted famed gospel singers Albertina Walker and Shirley Caesar among those she beautified, died May 1 at Little Company of Mary Hospital.
A smoker, she died of emphysema, family members said. She was 77.
Even in the hospital, her hair had been done. “She wore a [Soft Sheen] Care Free Curl,” said her niece Felicia Sanders. “She had it till the end.”
Mrs. Coleman was married three times to supportive men, relatives said. Her marriage to her first husband Fred Daniels, a minister, produced four sons. They later divorced. In 1970 she married a firefighter, Ted Ingram. After he died, she married Charles Coleman, who was chief of police for the Cook County Forest Preserves and a stepfather to singer Chaka Khan, according to Mrs. Coleman’s brother, John Hooker, a retired ComEd executive who chairs the Chicago Housing Authority board. Charles Coleman also died before her.
She was born in Pickens, Mississippi, and her family migrated to the West Side of Chicago. Her dad worked in a factory.
“My father left, and my mother had to stick it out and raise us all,” said John Hooker.
Young Dee, the fourth child and eldest daughter, helped care for seven younger siblings and took jobs to contribute to the family, he said: “She was a leader, she was a helper.
“She had entrepreneurial skills all along,” he said. “She would make hats. She would make flowers for Mother’s Day. She did some modeling.”
After graduating from Marshall High School, she studied at Mildred’s Beauty School, where she also taught “modeling and charm.” She’d grown up doing people’s hair and knew it was a dependable way to make a living.
“Baby, people gonna always get their hair done,” she told her goddaughter.
She worked at Cantell’s Salon and later opened her own salons on the West Side and the South Side.
In the late 1970s, the Gardner family asked her to become a Soft Sheen consultant.
“When we came out with new products, she would be one of the people who would test the products at her hair salon,” said Terri Gardner, past president of Soft Sheen. “She was a part of the key team that had that responsibility.”
The company flew her around the country and to the Caribbean and Europe to do demonstrations for hairdressers.
“She also did Michael Jackson’s hair once in London,” said her sister-in-law Mary Hooker, with whom she lived in her later years.
“We were very fortunate to have her,” said Gardner, calling her “an Energizer bunny — always moving, talking, active, engaging, creating. And she was very astute at identifying opportunity and taking advantage of it.”
Working for Soft Sheen taught her the arc of success, from concept to production.
“You have to put your plan down on paper and not procrastinate,” she once told Salon Talk magazine. “You’ve also got to be at least a little pushy. You can do anything you want if you want to badly enough.”
Mrs. Coleman believed in positive thinking. “She taught us how to sit, stand and speak correctly,” said her niece.
“When you were walking, she’d tell us, ‘Pull your shoulders back, hold your head up high,’ ” Felicia Sanders said.
She would tell clients, “You don’t have to settle for less than the queen you are.”
Mrs. Coleman loved to wear red and was active with Inspirational Deliverance Center Church of God in Christ and, before that, Stone Temple Baptist Church. A talented orator, she sometimes performed readings and poems at church.
In addition to her brother, she is survived by sons Michael, Dennis and Kevin; sisters Everlena, Shirley and Rosemary; another brother, Shedrick; one grandchild and one great-grandchild. Her son Steven died before her. Services have been held.