Marge Schott got the last laugh.
It's true that our lives are often measured by our deaths. And Marge lived large.
How many people in our corner of the world would get such a tribute? No politicians or celebrities come to mind. Not the critics who ridiculed her smoking, drinking or insensitive remarks. Those small-minded enforcers of political correctness may rule in this world, but few will mourn their passing.
At Schott's visitation, friends, fans and complete strangers came in twos and threes under gray skies on a chilly March day to say goodbye.
Many came because she had done something that touched them personally. Maybe a hug or an autograph at a Reds game. Or maybe it was some small kindness that clashed with her cartoonish media image as a mean and lonely skinflint.
We all heard about her gifts to the zoo and other causes. Like many in Cincinnati, she often shared her blessings of wealth generously.
But there were other gifts that can't be calculated in dollar signs. She was an inspiration to women in the business world. She liked to leave her glassed-in box and sit with fans in the stands at baseball games, to mingle and yak with ordinary people.
After her death, the stories of her friendliness poured in to local talk shows and newspapers.
In a way, maybe her life was an experiment - to find out if people who have wealth, power and celebrity can still be "just folks.''
In some ways, the experiment failed. Her personal life was put under a microscope. Casual, careless remarks became national scandals. People who never met her felt entitled to say cruel things about her.
One summer day while I sat at a Reds game with my family, she made her usual entrance a few rows away. And as she came down the aisle slowly, frail and showing her age, an older man's voice in the crowd yelled, "Here comes old hatchet face.''
What could make someone think it's OK to say that - besides too many beers? It must have hurt - but probably no more than the equally harsh abuse by sober pundits and Sports Illustrated. What is their excuse?
How many could withstand the intense spotlight of scrutiny that was focused on her? How many of the finger-shaking critics should serve a sentence in humiliating "sensitivity training?"
I don't defend Schott's remarks. But once upon a time, we would have defended her right to make them. Once upon a time, we didn't use the media like dogs in the Dark Ages, for bear baiting. Once upon a time, we didn't force people from earlier, different times to recant and repudiate their beliefs or be re-educated to the "correct" thinking of our oh-so-enlightened, sensitive times.
In spite of all the abuse she took, Schott still took her spot in Opening Day Parades, as often as age and health would allow.
In many ways, she wasn't just a Cincinnati personality - she was Cincinnati's personality. West-side frugality with big-check philanthropy; candid, blunt opinions, with a friendly innocence; a deep love of tradition, with impatience for change.
The experiment was a success. Marge Schott loved Cincinnati, and Cincinnati loved her back. She got the last laugh.
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