Thursday, August 02, 2001

Dave Ferriss

Executive, consultant, doorman

        We liberated women of a certain age like to talk about the doors we have walked through. First female CEO. First woman to join a formerly all-male club. First executive this or that.

        Sometimes we forget to mention the men who held the doors open.

        Looking back, it seems silly that once there was debate about actual doors. Some feminists thought men holding open car doors were patronizing, insulting, a symbolic threat to our struggle for equality in the workplace. And who should go first into a revolving door? Trivial. Irrelevant.

        The real barriers were much more subtle.

        I was liberating dishes from the dishwasher and trying to be the first person to get the hot water for my morning shower when Dave Ferriss tracked me down. Publisher of Cincinnati Magazine, he wanted me to be his editor.

        We met for lunch at the institutionally stuffy Queen City Club. Dave ignored the women's entrance and took me right through the front door.

Dusting off resume
        A stay-at-home mom, I was worried that my resume might be a little dusty. I was worried that the then-owner of the magazine was the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, which at the time was just another white men's club. “Things are changing,” Dave said.

        But, of course, “things” don't just change. Somebody changes them.

        I never figured out whether Dave set out to help women in the workplace or if he really was “just trying to get the best person for the job,” as he claimed. I know he was crazy about his daughters and step-daughters, thought they were bright and capable. So maybe that was it.

        Anyway, he gave me a crash course in the business end of publishing in the year we had together. Then he handed the magazine over, saying he was sure I would be all right. And he'd keep in touch, help if he could.

        Et cetera.

        Except he really did. He'd call and say, “There's somebody you should meet.” He'd arrange a lunch or a breakfast with some heavy-hitter whose secretary would have put me on hold for the rest of my natural life. And another door would creak open.

Death notice
        In May, we met for breakfast to “catch you up on what has been happening with me.” His voice distorted by his battle with throat cancer and weakened further by emphysema, he said matter-of-factly, “I still have some time. Probably another year or two.”

        For once, he was wrong. On Saturday, David Platt Ferriss died at the age of 82. His memorial service was musical and erudite and cultured. Add patriotic and competitive, loyal and witty and you'd have a pretty good picture of the man it memorialized.

        When Dave and I met last, when he more or less notified me that he was dying, I don't think either of us shed a tear. In fact, we laughed a lot, but I don't remember why. Wish I'd taken notes. But I thought there would be other breakfasts, lunches, phone calls, letters. Further instructions.

        As we parted, I fumbled to find my purse, greeted another diner. Killing time. Dave, his vigorous athlete's body buffeted by the last couple years of “challenges,” made his way slowly to the door.

        And held it open for me.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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