Tapestry attracts incredibly diverse people — residents and employees alike — who have amazing histories and inspiring stories to share. We are thrilled to have connected with Tapestry at Victoria Harbour resident, Mimi Vandermolen, who recounted her experiences as one of the first female automotive designers at Ford Motor Company.
Mimi was born in the Netherlands before moving to Canada with her parents in 1950. She was inspired by design at an early age, thanks in part to her motorcycle-racing father who was forever tinkering with motorcycles as part of his involvement with a major race series.
She was fascinated when he would disassemble motorcycles and then put them back together. His unique skill ignited a desire in her to understand how things worked and sparked her interest in all-things related to cars.
“My dad always gave me car toys,” says Mimi. “When I was growing up, I remember my mother getting upset at me for spending my allowance on car magazines like Motor Trend or Car & Driver. It drove her crazy, but it was my passion.“
Fast-forward a few years. As the end of high school loomed, so did the question, “What do you want to do when you finish school?” At the time, career paths for women were limited, but that didn’t stop Mimi from pursuing her passion. She enrolled in the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) to study industrial design and graduated in 1969.
Thanks to a well-connected professor, she secured a number of interviews south of the border. Little did Mimi know that the fateful road trip she embarked on with fellow classmates in an unheated Volkswagen would lead to her 30-year career at Ford Motor Company.
After moving to Michigan, Mimi started her career at Philco Studios designing appliances and other household items — a far cry from her true passion. With her sights set on a career in automotive design, she attended night classes at the Centre of Creative Studies in Detroit.
When she was hired by Ford, Mimi became one of the first female automotive designers to work at the company and in a field that had been dominated by men until that time. Although there were some challenges, Mimi found her design team to be incredibly supportive and she was able to work collaboratively on exciting projects such as the introduction of the air-bag feature in the Lincoln Continental, the design of the Ford Probe (which took her to Japan for a time), and the Ford Taurus — a three billion dollar program that saw that best-selling vehicle named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine in 1986.
“Despite the fact that my arrival to the Ford design team was rather intimidating due to the sheer size of the building itself — the size of a shopping mall — my design team was pretty welcoming,” says Mimi. “The fellows who were most supportive of my work were those who had daughters because they thought, ‘hey, if you can do this — my daughter can too!’ Understanding their perspective became a bit of a driving force for me.”
As a member of the storied Ford Taurus team, Mimi introduced many user-friendly interior innovations and emphasized the importance of ergonomics to improve driver comfort and functionality. With her innovative thinking and proven design flair, she was the first woman to ever lead a major Ford project when she was assigned to oversee the development of the Probe’s interiors and exteriors. On the Probe project, she brought a unique women’s perspective to vehicle design, creating an exciting vision for the future that appealed to a broader driver population.
Given her many career achievements, Mimi was promoted to progressively senior roles, including global Director of Colour and Trim, a position that saw her travel all over the world with responsibility for all exterior and interior automotive finishes. She held this position until retirement in 2000.
Today, Mimi continues to be thought of by the industry as a great leader and a positive role model who helped to shape the future of automotive design.
Mimi’s journey to Tapestry at Victoria Harbour came in a roundabout way after a brief stint living in Florida before shifting to the West Coast with her husband of 27 years. The couple had met decades earlier though reconnected and eventually married later in life, moving to Central California where they built a home and planned to retire. Their plan was tragically cut short when California’s largest and longest-burning wildfire — the Tubbs Fire — erupted and eventually drove them to return to Canada.
The move to Tapestry at Victoria Harbour was well timed for Mimi. It has become a place to discover a new city and an active way of life — one she has fully embraced through the pursuit of new interests and activities such as bridge and pickle-ball to name a few. Mimi is also an active member of the community’s vibrant Social Committee, which plays a key role in welcoming new residents and helping them to feel comfortably at home.
Victoria Harbour’s Social Committee also helps to inform wellness activities and events based on resident preferences. Their generous investment of time and energy helps to shape the community’s unique active culture, which was recognized in 2022 with a Beacon Award naming Tapestry at Victoria Harbour as one of the 25 Best in Wellness seniors’ communities in North America.
“Tapestry is such a great place because it’s got all kinds of activities going on all the time,” says Mimi. “You can do whatever you want and there’s always something to suit any interest. You can also meet many new and interesting people.“
Mimi, who still proudly drives Ford vehicles to this day, is one of the many fascinating residents who live in our Tapestry communities. We thank Mimi and all our residents for sharing their stories, spirit and energy; it’s what defines the unique Tapestry “feeling” that you experience the minute you walk in any of our front doors.
If Mimi’s wonderful story has encouraged you to learn more about living at Tapestry, please contact us. We would be pleased to host you for a complimentary lunch and a private tour. It would also be our pleasure to introduce you to the many amazing people who live and work at Tapestry!