Debbie Doerrlamm, who died June 9, was an early adopter before anyone was using that term, and she was a true revolutionary. Years before most companies even had email, she had built a website community for nail technicians around the world. She was also a dear friend, to me personally, to NAILS Magazine, and to so many people in the nail industry.
Many people met Debbie for the first time at one of the NailTech Networking Breakfasts that she had launched so people who only knew each other online could finally meet in person. If you had never met her in person, you were probably going to be very surprised to hear her speak for the first time because she had a deep, hoarse voice and a very (very!) heavy Long Island accent. But if you first knew her from BeautyTech, you already knew that she was one of the kindest, most generous people in the beauty business, always happy to help anyone who was struggling with some technical thing (nail- or computer-related).
She was one of few women in those early days in technology, and she explained to me once why she thought she succeeded in the field.
“How do you make a cup of tea?” she asked me when I asked how she got into computer science.
“Boil water,” I said.
“No,” she said. “First you go to the cabinet. Then you open the cabinet door, then you reach for a cup and take out the cup. Then you …” and she then detailed the seemingly painstaking process of how one makes a cup of tea.
“Your mind has to work like that. You have to think of each tiny step to understand how computers work. You have to tell the computer how to do each tiny thing,” she explained. And it made a lot of sense to me.
I always imagined that the “Command Center” where she produced so much content that benefited so many was a vast, high-tech operation, with lots of monitors and blinking lights and shiny things. But it wasn’t. I visited her once at her home in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and saw that the Command Center was just a simple desk in her basement, stacked with papers (and nail tips and orangewood sticks) near where she kept a manicure table to do her few remaining clients (Debbie did nails for a few select clients for years after she launched her web business just to keep her hand in it, but also because those clients would simply not go to anyone else). I think it goes to show you that you never need the flashy stuff when you are providing such a valuable resource.
In 2001 I wrote an article about Debbie and the impact she had on the nail industry. It reads in part:
There have been nail technicians who have lobbied legislatures for better laws, organized associations for the common good, and started magazines to help communicate to the industry. But what Debbie did was give nail technicians a voice — and an ear. What developed after those early formative years of BeautyTech.com is a forum for sharing ideas and communicating by a powerful group of nail professionals whose influence is in some ways more potent than organized associations. … A humble person, Debbie underplays her role as revolutionary leader. But the rest of us don’t. Debbie, you are a true industry pioneer, and a dear friend.
Debbie was married for 25 years to a man equal in sweetness to her and who doted on her. If you knew both Dave and Deb, you knew they adored each other and were the only two people who deserved the other. Dave frequently traveled with Deb to industry events (he was one of the NAILS team’s favorite booth helpers) and he had his own “following.”
They planned their retirement for years and years. They counted down the months to when Dave would retire from his job at JFK Airport and they could move to Virginia. They bought a house in the woods a few years ago and slowly retired from the hurly burly of New York, finally living there full time last year. Their granddaughter Hayley arrived in 2016 to brighten their days. But early last year, Deb found out she had lung cancer. She went through treatment, recovered, and got sick again. And on April 17 of this year, Dave died suddenly. Those who knew her well said what many of us were thinking: He couldn’t stand the idea of losing her, so he went first.
My tribute to Debbie, called “The Revolution of 1994,” is here.
To read tribute letters from friends and family, click here.
To view a photo gallery of Debbie's years spent in the industry, click here.