A Storied Life

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 “What did you think?”

The first time Lois Rosenthal demanded my opinion of a play, I was close to speechless. We were standing in a theater lobby, and I was amazed to think that she valued my insight as an editor and avid theater-goer that much. We’d just seen an amazing story, and Lois—a literary whiz—wanted to talk about it with me. I was immensely flattered.

In retrospect, perhaps she simply saw me as an average audience member and wanted to get an opinion from an Ordinary Joe. Well, no matter.

It was something to be around Lois when she was excited. If she talked about a new play that she really liked, her enthusiasm virtually galvanized the air in the room. When she described a young writer she’d published in Story, the famed magazine from the 1930s that she and her husband, Dick, brought back to life in 1989, her energy fairly crackled.

It is very hard to think of Cincinnati without that spark.

Lois Rosenthal died yesterday (July 20, 2014) at the age of 75. She will, of course, be remembered for the philanthropic commitments she shared with her husband—efforts they cranked into high gear after they sold their company, F&W Publishing. When you go to the Cincinnati Art Museum, it’s free because of them. Their name is writ large on the Contemporary Art Center; they were the moving force behind that massive undertaking.  Playhouse in the Park, the Freedom Center, the Ohio Innocence Project, FreeStore/Foodbank, the zoo . . . it’s hard to think of a corner of the community they haven’t touched.

But to me, she’ll always be an editor who loved good stories on the page and on the stage, and who wanted to make it possible for other people to enjoy stories, too. That was the motivation behind the Rosenthal New Play Prize, which brought new scripts to Cincinnati audiences for 15 years. And it was the same drive that prompted her and Dick to create the Rosy Reader Program—a project calculated to get little kids in Cincinnati Public Schools to read at home with their parents each evening. It was a quiet little arrangement to start, but I happened to be talking with Lois about it when it began nearly 20 years ago and she was really buzzed about the potential that this had to create life-long readers.

I noticed in her obituary that nearly 30,000 children participated as Rosy Readers. If she could have, I’ll bet she would have asked each one of them this: “What did you think of that story?”

   

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