'A woman of the people'


Brash, and rough around the
edges, she had huge heart

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marge Schott
Pioneer auto dealer and former Reds owner Marge Schott, shown here in November 1986 with her beloved Schottzie, brought fame and shame to her hometown.
(Enquirer file)
She called everyone honey.

And everyone knew her as Marge.

Now, at age 75, she is gone.

Marge Schott, a genuine Cincinnati character with loads of character, died today.

"Her death leaves me heart-broken," said restaurateur Tom Gregory. His late father, Ted, always greeted Schott with a hearty "Hi-ya Used-Car Margie!" when the Buick dealership owner and former Reds chief owner entered one of his Montgomery Inns.

"She made her mistakes in baseball," Gregory noted. "They were well-documented. And she may have gotten a raw deal.

"But she loved this town. Her passing robs Cincinnati of one of its biggest boosters."

In her life, Schott brought fame and shame to her beloved hometown. She did that as the good Marge and the bad Marge. And the former just may outweigh the latter.

"Marge was a paradox," said Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken. "While there is no excusing some of the indelicate things she said, there was a kindness to Marge that made her a woman of the people."

The good Marge was a generous benefactor of good causes for kids, animals and baseball. The bad Marge was the poster child for politically incorrectness and racist comments. Both Marges completed the total package of this controversial woman.

To the outside world, Schott will be known forever as the cantankerous dog-loving, chain-smoking Cincinnati Reds owner whose intemperate remarks about Hitler and blacks dunked her into an ocean of hot water.

The New York Times dubbed her "Baseball's Big Red Headache."

The baseball world knew her well. For nearly 15 seasons, she was the quirky team owner who scrimped on the front office, turning out lights and copying machines to save pennies, while spending big bucks on the field for the services of players with dubious skills.

"She was a crusty old broad, and I say that affectionately, because she treated me well," said Marty Brennaman, the Reds' Hall of Fame radio broadcaster.

"For the most part during her watch she spent whatever it took when it came to putting personnel on the field to make this a better ball club."

Her success with the Reds cannot be denied. The 1990 team went wire-to-wire to become the franchise's most recent World Champs. But, her loose lips ultimately sank her. Schott's comments left Major League Baseball with no alternative. The commissioner's office forced her to sell her majority interest in the home team she willingly bled the Reds' shade of crimson.

The man she sold the team to, Carl Lindner, called Schott "tough but fair." And plain-spoken. "What was on her heart was on her tongue."

Lindner found out what was on Schott's mind when she sued him in February 2003 over the placement of her seats at Great American Ball Park. The suit was settled in July.

Schott and Lindner last met three weeks ago at a meeting of the Reds' partners - she still owned about 1/13th of the team.

Despite their differences, Lindner called her "a skilled business person. No question about that."

Schott pocketed $67 million from the sale of the Reds. Making a fortune on the deal compared to her initial investment, she plowed millions back into the community.

"Selling the ball club was a blessing in disguise for the community as a whole," Brennaman said. "Look at all of the contributions she's made since then. She has never gotten enough credit for all of the money she's donated to causes in this city."

Cincinnati knew - and benefited from - the good Marge. While many in the Queen City reviled her for her racist remarks, many others revered her for her charitable contributions.

"Marge has done more than any other citizen to improve the quality of life in Cincinnati," said Bill Heckman, president of the Children's Heart Association.

For the last 41 summers, Schott held a Reds Rally shindig at her home. The combination auction, dinner and Reds players meet and greet raised more than $1 million for the association that aids heart research at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital.

Giving away millions of dollars, Scott loaned her name to a school building on St. Ursula Academy's East Walnut Hills campus, an 18-acre lake at Clermont County's Dan Beard Scout Reservation, a Boys & Girls Club in Covington, and a pavilion at the Milford Spiritual Retreat.

Anyone making a fuss over her generosity would be waved off by Schott. Usually with a smoldering Carlton in one hand.

"It's only money, honey," she liked to say.

The school building, the lake, the club and the pavilion bear the name: Marge Unnewehr Schott.

Unnewehr is her maiden name.

"Kids used to tease me unmercifully about that name," Schott once said in an interview.

"They'd call me 'Un-aware.' And 'Underwear.' "

But they didn't call her poor.

She was born Margaret Unnewehr on Aug. 18, 1928, the second of five daughters of Cincinnati lumber baron Frank Unnewehr and his wife, Charlotte, a classically trained pianist.

Margaret Unnewehr graduated from Clifton's Sacred Heart Academy with a high school diploma and a head for business.

"Daddy wanted a boy," she fondly recalled during an interview in 2000.

"So, he took me to all of his businesses."

She became his right-hand daughter and he nicknamed her "Butch."

Marge married well - to wealthy industrialist Charles Schott in 1952. But the marriage ended tragically.

He died in 1968, suffering a heart attack at the age of 42. His death left his 39-year-old widow to run his car dealership, his pig-iron empire and his brick plants, to roam their 70-acre estate in Indian Hill and regret that she was childless.

Being childless preyed on Schott. It colored her taste in charitable donations. And, in the end, it helped generations of Cincinnatians.

"Charlie and I were never blessed with children," she said in 2000.

"When you don't have kids and you're in a Catholic family - one of my sisters had 10 children in 11 years - she's part rabbit - you feel kind of guilty about that. So, I want to do things for other people's children."

Children and animals were Schott's great passions.

Her love of her St. Bernards, the Reds' four-legged mascots Schottzie and Schottzie 02, is legendary. Wherever Schott went, her dogs were sure to follow.

When she ran the Reds, she rubbed their fur on managers and players for good luck.

The dogs ruled Riverfront Stadium, going everywhere and, occasionally, going on the Astroturf.

The Schottzies also ruled her home in Indian Hill. In his new book, My Prison Without Bars, Pete Rose recalled a trip to Marge's mansion. The dog of the house drooled on his lap.

Rose protested.

Schott replied: "The dog lives here, Pete. You're just visiting."

Schottzie died in 1991. Schottzie 02, whose name graces the $500,000 athletic field Schott gave to St. Ursula, died in 2001.

The younger dog wore a Reds cap when it was buried. Schott tossed a replica of the 1990 World Series ring into her pet's grave.

Losing Schottzie 02 broke Schott's heart.

"I don't know if there'll be a Schottzie 03," she said.

There never was.

Instead of getting another dog, and instead of throwing good money after a sore-armed pitcher or a third-rate outfielder, Schott devoted her time and funds to two of her favorite homes for animals, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Warren County Humane Association.

"Anything where children or animals are involved, Marge is there for you," said Mari Lee Schwarzwalder, the Humane Association's director.

In 2003, Schott donated $25,000 to the Warren County facility. After that, Schwarzwalder and Schott became fast friends. That was a dream come true for the association's director.

"Marge has been an idol for me," she said. "She's always been so tenacious. She's a woman in a man's world and she's had the courage to succeed."

Schott's success in business, the money she made in what she liked to call "the good old boys' club," enabled her to be one of the top two or three benefactors in the history of the Cincinnati Zoo.

"That's saying something," said Gregg Hudson, the zoo's executive director. "We are the second-oldest zoo in the nation."

For decades, Schott supported the zoo's elephant and cheetah programs. In 2000, she donated the lion's share of the money for the elephant's new $6 million home, the Schott-Unnewehr Vanishing Giants Pavilion.

Hudson marks his third anniversary as the zoo's executive director in April. He admitted that when he came to town and before meeting with Schott, he had "all of the stereotypes in my mind."

He figured he would be meeting with a woman who was rough around the edges, prone to making inappropriate remarks and tough to deal with.

"She was a lot of what everybody thinks," he said.

"She called me honey.

"She was brash. And smoked a lot of cigarettes.

"But the thing I never really knew is that she had this huge heart. She loved animals and children. She did great things for this zoo.

"And this city."

What she did for Cincinnati, the causes she supported, will be her most enduring legacy. Her donations helped far more people than her comments hurt.

Frances Reardon Romweber, St. Ursula's principal, said, "When all is said and done, people will recognize that Marge Schott made Cincinnati a most wonderful place to live."

Her donations came with no strings attached. Or any ulterior motives.

Schott knew people talked behind her back every time she gave away some money. She heard them saying she was currying favor, hoping to restore her good name, trying to get in good with the angels and the Big Guy up above.

"Let them talk," she said.

"Let them give something."

She knew why she was giving away her money.

"You feel good, honey," she said, "making people happy."

E-mail: cradel@enquirer.com




MARGE SCHOTT: 1928-2004   [Special section]
'A woman of the people'
Daugherty: She was a true original
Insensitivity defined reign over Reds - and ended it
Schott gave millions for kids, pet causes
She paid for a world title, then paid for her mistakes
Pioneering businesswoman stood up to General Motors
Timeline: A lifetime of Marge
Reds remember only the best
Parker, Davis remember Marge for good deeds, not bad words
Schott's controversies still reverberate in baseball
Enquirer editorial: Remembering Schott's generosity