By Brecken Branstrator
Sallie Morton
Los Gatos, Calif.--Sallie Morton, the American Gem Society’s first female president and a vital part of the growth of its guilds, died Oct. 24. She was 91.

She was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos, in June 2013, according to an online obituary.

Morton was born Nov. 8, 1925, in Reno, Nevada, to Meredith Raines Miller and Sadie Phillips Miller.

After graduating from Reno High School, she went on to the University of Oregon, where she graduated with a degree in accounting and then worked for Skinner & Hammond in San Francisco.

In September 1949, she married MacDonald G. Morton from Riverside, California and moved to San Jose, where he was a senior in the watchmaking program at San Jose State University. The two opened a watch repair shop inside Bettencourt’s Market.

They moved to Cambrian Park Plaza in 1955, at which time Sallie became a gemologist.

Morton Jewelers was established in 1964 and remained in Town & Country Village through 1988. (When it was torn down to build Santana Row years later, asbestos was found in its roof.)

In 1988, they moved the store to Los Gatos. Six years later, Morton sold it and retired.

She was named the first female president of the American Gem Society in 1977 and served in the role until 1979. Morton also was instrumental in developing the AGS Guilds, driving around the country and going from store to store to spark interest.

In 1982, she became the first woman to receive the Robert M. Shipley Award.

In 2014, the American Gem Society starting giving out the annual Sallie Morton Award, recognizing the contribution of individuals who have gone over and above in their service to the AGS Guilds each year.

She also was involved in plenty of activities outside of the industry, including the Rotary Club of San Jose and the National Lymphedema Society, as well as affiliations with the Good Samaritan Hospital’s H2U trips and Tours Travel Program.

“(She was) a true trailblazer not just for women, but men as well who wanted to succeed in the jewelry industry. She was a great example of someone who, like many, was not born into this industry, but could soar to new heights,” said Cathy Calhoun of Calhoun Jewelers, the first recipient of the AGS Sallie Morton Guild Award.

Calhoun added that once, when she asked her how she achieved so much, Morton told her that she never wasted time.

“I will be forever inspired by the passion of Sallie Morton and her passion for the American Gem Society,” she said, “R.I.P. my friend! You did good.”

AGS CEO Katherine Bodoh posted on the organization’s Facebook page: “Ms. Morton’s contribution to the American Gem Society will never be forgotten. We are forever grateful for all she has done for our association.”

A memorial service will be held at The Terraces of Los Gatos from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

In lieu of flowers, her family is asking that donations be made to Compassion & Choices, P.O. Box 485, Etna, New Hampshire, 03750, or to a favorite charity.

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