It was perhaps 1978, just a year or so after Gale and I founded Hanky Panky, and we were invited to a store event at a boutique in New York City. Perhaps this was a store opening—of Wife Mistress or Beneath It All. I don’t remember the location, but I can still picture Jerry Bobbins, casually standing back in his trench coat with that mischievous grin on his face, surveying the crowd. We fell into conversation with Jerry and, not long after, he became Hanky Panky’s first sales rep.
Over the years, Jerry delightedly repeated the story of how he met his future wife, Shirley. Curious to meet her, after she answered the phone at the lingerie department of a store where she was counting inventory, Jerry made a date for later. He managed to elicit from Shirley details of her appearance but—naughty boy—he purposely misrepresented what he was wearing—just in case!
Shirley’s family eagerly drew Jerry into their large fold and while Shirley cooked up a storm at “the big house” outside of Pittsburgh, Jerry became Shirley’s mother’s close friend and confidant.
Although technically they each represented separate companies, Shirley and Jerry were constantly on the road together over a 15-year period, travelling in their spacious Town Car, stuffed with merchandise. Even so, when Jerry died in 1996, Shirley made an appointment to speak with Gale and me to formally apply for the job that had become available.
One of Hanky Panky’s early design successes was the introduction of the shoulder pad undershirt. After some initial reluctance to sell this unique item, it became what Jerry jocularly announced to his customers was “MITB” (Money In The Bank). And when our famous thong was introduced in 1986, Jerry strung his samples together and unfurled them like a circus clown to the delight of his customers.
Shirley was a more meticulous foil to Jerry’s antics. She was a beautiful and stylish woman who remained so even as she hauled her many sample cases and racks into and out of her vehicle by herself after Jerry died. Danny Koch of the Town Shop in New York remembers being directed “do not touch anything” when he offered to help load her car after appointments.
Shirley will also be remembered by her friends at Hanky Panky as an extremely generous human being. Our shipping department could count on an elaborate thank you lunch sent in during the December holidays by Shirley and rarely did a special occasion pass without a gift from Shirley, always of impeccable taste.
As bawdy and off-color as Jerry could be, Shirley was the picture of probity. Nadine Aronson, our Specialty Account Manager recounted one of her favorite memories of Shirley. “When one of Shirley’s accounts started carrying ‘toys’ purchased from Hanky Panky, Shirley called me and said ‘darling, can you send me information on the toys you are making now?’ I turned ten different shades of red as I explained that these were ‘toys’ for adult use. Her response was, simply, ‘uh, ok…no, thank you.’”
Shirley worked with Hanky Panky, albeit on a much-reduced schedule in the last few years, until 2014. At the last Curve tradeshow she attended, she did a runway strut to show off a pair of vintage pants from Hanky Panky and, as Tammy Gutgesell, our National Sales Manager for the Specialty Channel, recalls, punctuated the show with the Hanky Panky Handshake™, giving the crowd a peek of her retro v-kini.
As she characterized everyone she interacted with, Shirley was truly “special, special, special.”
Shirley Bobbins died on June 16, 2015 at about 85 years old. She will be buried beside her beloved Jerry.