Nothing Rains on Jim Scott’s Parade

The beloved media icon stays positive despite his health issues.
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ILLUSTRATION BY REMIE GEOFFROI

Jim Scott is really looking forward to being the Honorary Grand Marshal of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade on March 28. “I love the parade,” says the retired WLW radio personality during a mid-January interview. “I never thought about being the Grand Marshal.”

He’s done about everything else associated with the event, which has been a Cincinnati Reds tradition since 1919, with the exception of being canceled when COVID-19 arrived in 2020. Last year, at age 80, Scott walked the entire three-mile route from Findlay Market to just east of Fountain Square.

He is proud to have been in almost every parade since he first came to Cincinnati in 1968. He’s served as the parade’s official spokesperson for years, heading the annual press conference where the formal Grand Marshal—usually someone directly associated with baseball or the Reds—is announced. And, according to Kelly Lanser, the market’s CEO, Scott has always urged that “Findlay Market” be prominently stressed in the parade’s title in order to acknowledge and support the merchants there.

His devotion to the parade, the Reds, and Findlay Market is consistent with his support for the traditions and people of Cincinnati in general, which is why he’s long been such an admired, even beloved, figure in this city. He retired as WLW’s morning personality in 2015, ending almost 47 years in Cincinnati radio.

“The Findlay Market Parade Committee was thrilled to flip the script and announce that Jim would be the one leading the parade from Findlay Market to the stadium,” says Lanser.

Being the parade’s Honorary Grand Marshal may seem like a natural, almost de rigueur, progression for Scott now that he’s retired. But it’s especially poignant and resonant this year, given his health challenges.

In 2021on Opening Day, as fate would have itScott’s doctor told him it was likely he was showing symptoms related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A year later, another physician confirmed the diagnosis. According to the ALS Association, the disease has its own tragic natural progression, weakening muscles that impact physical function. Scott revealed the diagnosis to the public in August 2023. A grim irony: ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the baseball legend who had it in the 1930s.

When Scott was announced as Honorary Grand Marshal at early December’s Redsfest, he had to appear via a video as he was in a rehab facility recovering from pneumonia. That bout took his ALS symptoms “over the cliff,” says Donna Hartman, his wife of 23 years. And it especially affected his vocal power and clarity. “It did its damage,” she says. “But left was his grace, his charm, his wit. His personality was the same, you just had to lean over close to his mouth to hear him.”

As he continued to deal with the disease in December, at one point needing a hospital return, parade organizers considered contingencies, including having his wife and sons take his place in the parade in his honor. When I visit Scott at a Northern Kentucky rehabilitation hospital where he gets assistance with feeding and occupational, physical, and speech therapies, he’s smiling, polite, welcoming, and funny at times. When I ask what he’s doing to stay strong, he quickly adds a slight but crucial—to him—rejoinder: “And positive!”

He tells it like it is. “It is a fatal disease,” he says. “So one of these days it will get me. We’ll all die someday. When you know your time is limited, you shouldn’t waste it. But one thing that makes me mad is what ALS did to my voice. Excuse the expression, that pisses me off. I still can talk, but it’s getting worse. I’m looking into technology to help me communicate in the future.”

For the interview, he’s in a wheelchair in a spacious conference room, wearing a bright orange 700 WLW golf shirt and a red ball cap with a big white C. His attentive wife Donna and sons Casey and Scott—from their father’s first marriage—are in the room to help him with the interview logistics. They also assist him in posing winningly with an Honorary Grand Marshal 2024 jersey, which he hasn’t worn yet. (Scott also has another son, Jim, from his first marriage.)

He’s determined that his future entails being this year’s Honorary Grand Marshal of the parade. “Yes, why not,” he says. “I may be in a wheelchair, or I may be in a convertible. Or I might levitate.” When the laughter in the room ceases, he turns serious. “Being in the parade to me will be a statement that I’m not going to quit. I’ll probably be in a wheelchair, but I probably won’t be the only person there in a wheelchair.”

That last comment is an example of what those close to him refer to as his instinctive empathy and compassion for others. “Jim’s the real deal,” says Donna. “Every help giver, every nurse, every aide, he says, How are you?

I ask him about that. Why endeavor to be friendly given the personal hardships? “Do you know the expression ‘spark joy?’ ” he replies. “If I see somebody in a wheelchair, I say, Hi, champ, what’s your name? And I give a thumbs-up. I think that’s the way I grew up. My dad always said everybody deserves recognition.”

Scott’s heartfelt intention is to spark joy in all who see him during this month’s Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, if he’s able to go. He would love to ask each person along the route their name and hear how they’re doing.

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