When longtime customers visited Roz Cannon’s flag store after her death, they came to mourn.
The depth of their sorrow was surprising, according to her daughter Mona — but then again, the 94-year-old woman knew how to develop relationships with people, including her clientele.
Roz Cannon was the president of James E. Perry Co. Flag Headquarters, a flag manufacturing and distributing business in Burbank whose banners have appeared in the film “Independence Day” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, and above many municipal and county buildings.
She was also the daughter of Russian immigrants, grew up burdened with responsibilities at an early age during the Great Depression, and was simultaneously generous and — in the way moms can sometimes be — critical, Mona Cannon explained. But her legacy also was one of kindness and tenderness.
“To me, what you leave behind is partly what you accomplished in your life,” the daughter said in a phone interview. “She could have turned out to be bitter, [but] she made something of herself. She had a family that she gave great opportunities to and loved. She had a business.”
After her mother died on June 9, Mona liquidated the business, with the shelves and drawers of flags being emptied throughout July. Roz’s desk, sectioned off in a corner of the room and stacked with papers, would also be emptied. The sole computer in the office would be taken away, as would Roz Cannon’s meticulous filing system — paper only, of course.
Mona has been reflecting on the positive things she and her sister, Pam, inherited, things that go beyond material goods. Roz Cannon never overcharged a customer or tried to sell them what was merely most profitable for her. She loved to learn and wanted to give her daughters the formal education she didn’t receive, paying for her daughters to attend Pomona College. She also paid for both of them to go to Stanford University where Mona received her master’s in business administration and Pam completed her undergraduate degree.
While she was generous, Roz was also very thrifty. “You don’t need that” and “It’s still good” are phrases that Mona said sometimes still make it hard for her to throw things away. And, even if her mother didn’t intend it, — there was a “certain fearfulness,” Mona says, she and her sister inherited.
“Our lives, as 20th and 21st century California girls, [were] influenced by a 19th century Russian shtetl,” she explained, using the term for an Eastern European Jewish town. “The fearfulness about outsiders, the distrust of what’s going to happen next, the anxiety, somehow that leaked into our lives.”
After emigrating from Russia, Roz Cannon’s parents settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where they owned a small grocery store. She was born in 1926. But during the Great Depression, the family faced two major losses: the store and Roz’s mother.
At 11 years old, and with a father who was somewhat distant, Roz began taking care of her younger brother. Her attachment to work started early when she got an after-school job at a bakery.
“I think it set the tone for the rest of her life, because she often told me that the only thing that her father really valued her for was that she worked,” Mona remarked.
Roz later graduated from high school, following her relatives to the Los Angeles area. There, she found herself a variety of jobs: secretary, office manager, bookkeeper.
But as much as she wanted to attend college, it was something out of reach. Her father, who died when she was in her early 20s, didn’t leave her much money, and work didn’t leave her enough time to take classes.
Roz soon met her future husband, William Stanley Cannon Jr. ― “Bill” to most. They met when he stopped by her apartment to visit one of Roz’s roommates. He started dating Roz instead, and they married in 1949. Mona was born about 11 months later.
The couple bought a small house in Burbank, where Bill had been living. A few years later — Mona isn’t quite sure when — he bought the flag business.
The couple revived it from near-bankruptcy to a thriving shop. Bill handled sales while Roz managed the books. Besides flags, they also made a profit selling scoreboards to schools and stadiums ― including Dodger Stadium.
But as high-profile as the business’ clientele was, it also demanded most of Roz and Bill Cannon’s time. And though Mona sometimes helped out with tasks, part of her also resented the store.
“I didn’t like that it took up almost all of their time,” she said. “I didn’t like that we couldn’t easily go on vacation whenever we wanted … I didn’t like that my mom couldn’t be [a] room mother or bake cookies or be there when I got home. As a child there were lots of things not to like.”
But for her mother, “Her home was behind her desk,” according to Alison Bryan, who worked for Roz for the past five years.
And even after her kids went to college, and her husband died of a sudden heart attack in 1970, she did what she had done since she was a child: She worked. She didn’t slow down much — certainly not in enthusiasm — until a few years before she died, Mona remembered. She rarely took a vacation and came into the company’s office every day until the last six months or so of her life.
What made her efforts more impressive was the opposition she had faced — the expectation that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t run a business. Cannon felt she had been passed over for some opportunities because she was a woman, Bryan said.
But, according to Wesley Ru, a businessman whom she mentored for decades, she never complained. Instead, she outsold many of her competitors.
“Her life was about adversity,” he said in a phone interview.
But Cannon also had other interests besides business. She worked for a suicide prevention center, a role Bryan said she was very proud of, and she had a strong love for animals — especially her dog Rosie.
“[Cannon] became a bit of part of my family,” Bryan said by phone.
Roz Cannon was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, next to her husband.
Mona Cannon remembers her mother could be critical, the older woman sometimes chiding her daughters about their invoicing skills or the way they made a tuna sandwich.
But that’s not what she focuses on when she thinks about her mother. Instead, she talked about her love for her family and friends — which included the custodians and maintenance workers at her assisted living home. She remembers her mother’s generosity and the way she forged relationships. And she tells her favorite story about Roz Cannon.
When she was at St. Joseph’s Hospital for her periodic checkups, Roz noticed that a security guard she had befriended seemed forlorn. The guard, after some prompting from Roz, explained that her car had broken down and she was having financial troubles.
Roz asked her how much money it would take to fix her problems.
About $1,000, the other woman replied.
Then, Roz took out her checkbook, scribbled down the number and handed it to the guard.
“That was my mother,” Mona Cannon said of the story. “Above all else, that was my mother.”