Lois Rosenthal’s recent and untimely death gives pause to all of us as we think about her contributions to the arts and towards our increasingly unknown future with those same arts here. I have always thought of Lois, to use the language of business, as an entrepreneur, rather than a manager. Her great mind was that of a founder of an idea, rather than an implementer of its details, the difference between the creator and the administrator. An understanding of this concept may help appreciate her occasional short fuse: creative leaders are often impatient. Her contributions to the arts and to our polis have been legion, and areas in and out of the arts, and generations of art lovers and educators and inner city children, among others, will long benefit both from her brilliance, her creativity, and her largesse.
I met Dick and Lois Rosenthal in the early seventies through activities at the CAC. I served on the board with Dick, a wonderful leader, an inclusive person, a wonderful listener, someone who really did take other peoples’ ideas into consideration. Thus, Dick and Lois tended to balance off one another: I have not met another couple like them in my long wanderings through the arts.
If you walked into a room and saw Lois there, and she headed your way, what you felt was a huge bundle of red haired energy crossing the room. She wasn’t coming just to say hello; she was always bursting with ideas, and might take the opportunity, at large openings or benefit parties, to ask your opinion about something or someone, or to express hers in no uncertain terms. I looked forward to those encounters, which were not necessarily frequent, but they were meaningful. Lois believed in change for the better. She wanted Cincinnati to be a better and more exciting city, and her ideas usually focused on the visual arts, and theater, as The Contemporary Arts Center, The Playhouse in the Park, and, more recently, the theater department at NKU were all made better through her belief in them, her support of them, and her specific ideas on making them better. In many ways, we owe the existence of the new CAC, named for Lois and Dick, to them. But if you saw Lois in a place like Uptown Arts in Over the Rhine, you saw a gentler side of her, where her nurturing side dominated. The idea that various art forms could be taught, free, to inner city children was very new when Uptown Arts was created by the Rosenthals. Her most recent venture, the Innocence Project, whereby alleged criminals’ cases were reopened to prove or disprove innocence or guilt through DNA testing, was as important as anything else Lois threw herself into.
I may have been most impressed by her editorship of Story Magazine. F&W Publications, which Dick owned and ran, bought the prestigious magazine when it was down on its heels financially. It had a reputation for publishing some of the best short stories in the world, and under Lois’ editorship, Story beat out The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper’s magazines at the national magazine awards ceremonies. This was a coup of the first magnitude: Lois was an unknown editor, and she mentored and nurtured young short story writers into national prominence and lasting careers. Some of my favorite brief conversations with Lois occurred when I had read various books of short stories, and noted the warm thanks given to her in the acknowledgements over and over again. I liked to call and read those to her over the phone. The last such time was on a Monday a few years ago. After I explained the nature of my call, and read the acknowledgement, she reminisced briefly about the writer in question, and then asked me if that was the only reason for my call: I said yes. She asked “you don’t want anything else?” and I said no, and then she said “it’s a bleak and rainy Monday, and you just made my day”. I think that she was so used to people asking her for money, in particular, that such simple conversations were rare and unusual, and may explain her occasional abruptness with people, and some of her impatience. It is difficult to be in the public eye knowing that many see you just as a source of money.
She insisted that admission to The Art Museum be free every day, allowing entrance to so many more people: where else can you get a whole day’s pleasure free? She was a patron in the best sense of the word, but her patronage grew out of her great intelligence and her liberalism, and I fear that we shall not see the likes of a Lois Rosenthal again in many, many decades. I offer this memoriam in tribute to a woman who I admired greatly, cannot say I knew well, but whose contributions have been legion and legendary.
By: Daniel Brown