Sunday, March 1, 1998
Lawyer Ketz leaves paper monument

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This is something I've been meaning to do for a long time. I wanted to tell the story of Roy Ketz. It's a good one, even though most of the lawyers and judges in town already know it.

Anybody who has spent time at the Hamilton County Courthouse probably has gotten a greeting card from him, certainly has been asked to sign one. Sometimes you could see lawyers scattering as he approached.

They liked him, but, well, sometimes they had better things to do than sign a greeting card for somebody they barely knew. Plus, who exactly would they bill this time to? Once, Roy said, one of them just came right out and said he was too busy making money.

Roy soldiered on, sending about 130,000 cards over the past 40 years. He was a juggernaut of compassion, an antidote to every terrible lawyer joke you've ever heard. Computerized, Hallmark-ized condolences? Ha. He appended personal messages while riding the bus downtown from his home in Bond Hill.

''You a lawyer?'' was the way he greeted newcomers. Because, of course, if they were, they qualified to sign one of his cards, which went out to new mothers, new grandparents, the sick, the grieving, the graduates. Roy carried a stack of cards for every occasion.

''He'd catch you everywhere, in the elevator, in the barber chair,'' Municipal Court Judge Jack Rosen says.

A network of spies?

Somebody's kid would break a leg and - bam - a card arrived from Roy. Heart attack? I picture the cardiologist shouting, ''Clear. And don't step on the card from Roy Ketz.''

How did he know so much so fast? Informants at the hospitals? Spies recruited to his conspiracy of kindness? I am probably making it more complicated than it needs to be. A very nice man, Roy talked to a lot of people.

Andy Conlon, bailiff for Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Crush, swears he mentioned to Roy that a lawyer they both knew had cancer. ''Before the period hit the end of the sentence, Roy was out in the hall, getting somebody to sign a card for him.''

Possibly Andy exaggerates.

Anyway, I never got a chance to ask Roy Ketz. He died Tuesday. People were shocked. ''I just saw him.'' They probably did. He was at work the week before he died, just before he went into the hospital. He was a lawyer for more than 50 years. Real estate, title searches, wills, estates.

If you were wandering around trying to find something at the clerk's office, he was probably the guy who stopped to help. Slightly built, not too tall, he talked fast and had friendly brown eyes.

Mary Jo Storm, Judge Rosen's bailiff, gathered signatures for cards to Roy's widow, Gloria, and his daughter, Judith. ''I never knew what a job it was to get people to stop long enough to sign a card. Boy, do I appreciate what Roy went through all those years,'' she says.

''I know a lot of people make fun of me,'' Roy said once. ''But I'm not one of those fellows who gives up. Kindness isn't very popular in our society.'' And if people hadn't remembered to send a greeting to somebody who had just lost a relative or gained a son-in-law or passed a kidney stone, then Roy was pleased to give them a nudge.

And now his cards are in thousands of scrapbooks, right next to the graduation photographs and Mass cards.

''Did I thank him?'' Andy Conlon says. ''I hope I did. You know how you put things off.''

I know what you mean, Andy. I always meant to tell Roy's story while he could still read it. And I think of all the people I meant to thank and the birthday cards I meant to send and the notes I meant to write.

That's a problem Roy Ketz never had.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.