Mary Ann Milton, pioneering real estate broker and entrepreneur, dies of COVID-19 complications

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Pam Louwagie, Star Tribune
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As a woman working in a man's world in the 1950s, Mary Ann Milton found success on her own terms.

Believed to be the first female real estate broker in Minnesota, Milton found investors to buy into properties and redeveloped several around the Twin Cities. She became best known for her signature project: Milton Square, a Bavarian-style commercial and residential complex in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

Milton, of Mahtomedi, died Jan. 2 of complications from COVID-19. She would have turned 100 next month.

Born Mary Ann Buchan to Scottish immigrant parents, her father died when she was just 5 years old. Her mother moved the couple's three children from Missouri to White Bear Lake to be closer to relatives.

Milton grew up contributing to the family, said her daughter, Heather O'Malley. After graduating high school, Milton enrolled at the University of Minnesota part-time while she did office work at a local real estate agency. The job exposed her to what would become a life passion, her daughter explained.

"She just had a really strong sense of personal accomplishment," O'Malley said.

In 1957, she bought Milton Square, a mixed-use building erected 1909, with the goal of turning it into a quaint, self-contained community where residents could get they everything they needed from merchants downstairs.

Milton liked the real estate world, O'Malley said, because she could work by appointment and still raise her three children with her husband, lithographer John Milton. She also fit in time to join civic boards and volunteer. Along the way, she helped other women.

"She helped single women, widows and divorced women get credit because that was hard to do," O'Malley said. "She really had a lot of balls in the air but was trying to encourage other women to get into the industry, too."

Milton loved wearing tall spike heels, skirts and other feminine wares, feeling no need to dress like the men she worked among, her daughter said.

"She was going to be feminine and still show them up. She loved that," O'Malley said. "She was not intimidated by anybody no matter what."

O'Malley said it was hard on her mother to be confined to a long-term care facility without visitors because of COVID-19 — a disease that eventually afflicted her anyway.

Besides O'Malley, of Woodbury, Milton is survived by sons Michael Milton of Brainerd and Patrick Milton of Somerset, Wis., seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

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