Edith Steinbauer, 78; helped run Greenhouse One

Edith Steinbauer (above) with daughters (from left) Jessica, Aubrey, and Meredith. Edith Steinbauer (above) with daughters (from left) Jessica, Aubrey, and Meredith.
By Jaime Lutz
Globe Correspondent / August 20, 2011

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Edith Tomlin Steinbauer, who with her husband helped to run the former Boylston Street fixture Greenhouse One, died June 6 in her Wellington, Fla., home of lung cancer. She was 78.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, she graduated from Olney High School in 1948. She attended Pennsylvania State College between 1950 and 1951.

In her early 20s she moved to Marblehead, where she met her husband, Frederick Steinbauer, in 1955, on the day he was discharged from the US Army.

She was a beautiful woman, stylish and poised. “A lot of people compared her to Grace Kelly when she was young,’’ said Meredith Deaver, one of Mrs. Steinbauer’s three daughters, of Alpharetta, Ga.

She had spunk, too. While Mr. Steinbauer and his future wife were dating, she challenged him to a swimming race across Marblehead Harbor. Little did he know that she was wearing flippers. She beat him handily.

They married in 1957.

In 1968, the family moved to Wrentham, and in 1972 they began commuting to Boston to work at Greenhouse One, a business Mr. Steinbauer started with his partner, Maynard Winston.

The idea: a greenhouse in the middle of one of Boston’s largest neighborhoods, on Boylston Street near the Boston Common. It was something of a Hub institution, with a Syrian restaurant below it and blossoming plants nestled throughout; soon, Greenhouse One became a franchise in several area malls.

Mrs. Steinbauer, described by those who knew her as extremely organized and efficient, handled the bookkeeping.

Away from work, she spent most of her time raising her daughters, whom she encouraged to meet her high standards in school, in work, and in athletics.

“You had to give it 110 percent, give it your best and do your best,’’ Deaver said.

She nurtured her daughters’ creative sides, too. She would frequently take them to the library for books or spread out large rolls of paper for them to paint on the kitchen table. Their Wrentham home was always filled with Mrs. Steinbauer’s beloved opera and classical music.

“Every Saturday she’d throw open the windows, clean, and play Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony,’’ Deaver said.

Mrs. Steinbauer loved sports, especially tennis. She both watched the game - she “sort of had a crush on Bjorn Borg,’’ said Jeffrey Barker, an especially close nephew - and played it every chance she got.

And she loved going into Boston, both for work and fun; Mr. Barker recalled that she loved to get crepes at The Magic Pan on Newbury Street and spend days walking in the Back Bay.

In 1978, Mr. Steinbauer was seriously injured in a car accident. After the crash, he could not work, and the Steinbauers sold Greenhouse One in 1979 and moved to Wellington.

At this point, Mrs. Steinbauer became the primary breadwinner. She cofounded a real estate business, eventually selling it to Coldwell Banker. She continued to work in the company as a property manager up to her final days, garnering a reputation for her steely calm and her profound sense of ethics (her nickname was “Legal Edie’’). “Everything had to be above board,’’ Deaver said.

Donna Speciale, a co-worker, said Mrs. Steinbauer treated tenant, landlord, and co-worker with the utmost respect and kindness.

She never raised her voice, and “she always knew the right words,’’ Ms. Speciale said.

In addition to Deaver, Mrs. Steinbauer leaves daughters Aubrey Smiga of Newport Beach, Calif., and Jessica Coppola of Wellington. She also leaves six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at her nephew’s home at 32 Moore Road in Sudbury at 11 a.m. Sept. 18. In a separate, private service, her ashes, like her husband’s, will be spread in Marblehead Harbor.

Jaime Lutz can be reached at