Seymour Rothman, 1914-2013: Veteran Blade columnist thrived among celebrities, everyday citizens

6/5/2013
BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Seymour Rothman, reporter and columnist for The Blade, collects donations at Cherry and Superior streets in 1963. Chalky Red Yaranowski, one of Toledo’s well-known bootleggers, gave $5.
Seymour Rothman, reporter and columnist for The Blade, collects donations at Cherry and Superior streets in 1963. Chalky Red Yaranowski, one of Toledo’s well-known bootleggers, gave $5.

Seymour Rothman, who in his 55-year Blade career brought an array of real-life characters to the printed page — mobsters and numbers runners and stars of the gridiron, screen, and boardroom — but who also captured the humor and poignancy among everyday Toledoans, died Tuesday in Toledo Hospital. He was 99.

He had congestive heart failure, his son, Robert, said. Mr. Rothman lived at Kingston Residence of Sylvania and still went out to lunch with friends until recently. He also was at work on a collection of short stories ostensibly for children, “but really there are all these plays on words that make it for adults,” his daughter, Betty, said.

Every story closes with a moral, except “most of the time you wouldn’t think the moral would end up being what it ended up being. It was so clever,” she said. For instance, the moral of “The Spider and the Art Critic” is, “Don’t believe everything you read on welcome mats.”

Mr. Rothman’s 99th birthday party had a Chinese theme — takeout was served — based on a traditional Chinese way of counting birthdays.

“This party was, ‘If Dad were Chinese, he would be 100,’ ” his daughter said. “He loved it. He had a great time.”

Asked at his 98th birthday bash whether he dreamed of reaching such an advanced age, Mr. Rothman said, “Let me put it this way, I never thought I wouldn’t.”

He retired March 1, 1991, and wrote a letter to colleagues, apologizing in a characteristic blend of humor and warmth, that they’d get no coffee and cake at his departure because he had declined a farewell party.

“Unfortunately I am allergic to attention,” Mr. Rothman wrote. “It makes me blubber.”

He would have said, as retirees before him, that he'd do it all again. “It is trite, but true. It is a wonderful place to be in our wonderful profession.”

In 1964, Seymour Rothman went to the National Guard's Camp Grayling in Michigan to report. A World War II vet, he’s seen with a deuce-and-a-half Army truck.
In 1964, Seymour Rothman went to the National Guard's Camp Grayling in Michigan to report. A World War II vet, he’s seen with a deuce-and-a-half Army truck.

He closed, “I appreciate the fact that when word of my retirement got around, nobody said it’s about time — even though it’s about time. Take good care of my newspaper.”

John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, recalled Mr. Rothman fondly.

“Seymour, a class act and Blade legend, knew so many people and is unforgettable,’’ Mr. Block said. “He related to Vaudeville from living through it. He knew the most important show business people, along with so many Toledoans.”

Mr. Rothman closed his career as writer of the venerable Blade Peach section column, “I’ve Heard,” alternating for years with Don Wolfe — and which they’d both taken over from the late Mitch Woodbury — featuring slice-of-life anecdotes related by readers of every stripe.

“Seymour wrote about people doing everyday things that were not big news, but were the things that everybody cared about,” said Mike Tressler, a retired Blade staffer and a former features editor who wrote a Peach section column, “Small Wonders,” after Mr. Rothman’s retirement.

“He wrote about things that were funny, that were unusual, the unexpected things that happened to everybody and made them realize that’s what life is all about,” Mr. Tressler said. “Whatever he wrote about people, he brought it to a level everyone could understand. These were not presidents and congressmen, but they were their neighbors, their friends, people they went to school with.”

Mr. Rothman, who started his Blade career as a sports writer, also wrote a weekly column in the 1980s and early 1990s about the world of sports as viewed from an easy chair, “Electronic Press Box.”

But he wrote more than light fare. He was a keen observer and sharp listener and wrote profiles of Charles Dana, the founder of Dana Corp., and Edward DeBartolo, the mall magnate. Joe O’Conor, a retired Blade managing editor, recalled Mr. Rothman’s cross-country trip with a long-haul trucker and the resulting piece in Toledo Magazine, which at the time was part of The Sunday Blade.

“He was a great writer,” Mr. O’Conor said.

Seymour Rothman, in his Ottawa Hills home in 2006, was a prolific writer to the end, most recently working on short stories.
Seymour Rothman, in his Ottawa Hills home in 2006, was a prolific writer to the end, most recently working on short stories.

Added Tom Gearhart, a retired Blade editor and writer: “If you needed a story, no matter how thin the premise, Seymour was the guy to go to.

“Whatever he wrote, he wrote beautifully, and it wasn’t just pretty words,” Mr. Gearhart said. “He had an unbelievable love of and sense of the people he talked to.”

Mr. Rothman and Blade chief photographer Tom O'Reilly were sent to investigate the plight of Native Americans at a Cheyenne reservation in Montana after a Toledo couple gained national attention in 1963 as they tried to adopt two children away from the poor conditions of the reservation. One of the children was so ill, he died en route to Toledo.

Mr. Rothman also received a national award in 1973 for his magazine story about the inner-city life of a Toledo man who turned from pimping, drug-dealing, and addiction to working with people in need of counseling.

“I think the story that gave me the greatest satisfaction came along in 1941. I was in the police press room,” Mr. Rothman wrote in 1988, “when a fellow I’d known through sports came looking for me. He had two friends. Some months ago they’d started a chapter of a little-known organization called Alcoholics Anonymous. Maybe they’d kept it too secret. It hadn’t been growing as fast as it should. Did I think a story in The Blade would help?

“Of course I did,” Mr. Rothman wrote. “I've thought that all my life. I still do.”

He was born May 17, 1914, in New York to Ella and William Rothman. He was an infant when the family moved to Toledo, and he grew up on Lagrange Street, but newspapering affected his entire life, he wrote in 1988.

“Look what it did for my youth — I don’t think I could have had one without it,” he wrote.

In his sophomore year at Woodward High School in 1929, he applied to be high school correspondent for the former Toledo Times.

“As the lone applicant, I won the job hands down,” he wrote. After graduation, he took journalism courses at the University of Toledo — and was the Times’ university correspondent. He also carried copy at the newspaper’s downtown offices on weekends and during the summer.

“Toledo was a wonderful place for a young copyboy-reporter boy in those days,” he wrote in 1988. Near The Blade and Times, at Summit and Cherry, was a district “made up of sleazy hotels with ladies to match, flop houses, pawn shops, novelty shops, bars, night clubs, and missions,” he wrote. ‘‘The burlesque house was just a block away, and a few blocks out on Cherry Street was the Terminal Building where the pro wrestlers hung out.”

Seymour Rothman, Toledo Blade writer. Toledo Blade file photo dated Feb. 15, 1978
Seymour Rothman, Toledo Blade writer. Toledo Blade file photo dated Feb. 15, 1978

With no vacancies at the Times, Blade sports editor Bob French hired Mr. Rothman in September, 1936. Later, he was a city desk and police beat reporter, where he encountered gangsters, gamblers, and petty functionaries who had a story to tell.

He later returned to sports writing and in the 1950s and early 1960s wrote a sports column, “One Man’s Opinion,” which featured a recurring fictional alter-ego, always referred to as “my friend, Harry, who gets things wholesale.”

Mr. Rothman was an Army veteran of World War II and served in North Africa and Italy. He received a bronze star for meritorious achievement as editor of a transportation newsletter for the Mediterranean Theater.

He was a member of the Woodward High School Hall of Fame. For a time, he and Blade artist Walt Buchanan collaborated on a syndicated sports comic strip, “Champs and Chumps.”

Mr. Rothman wrote the screenplay for Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar, a 1965 movie that starred Arnold Stang, Huntz Hall, and Leo Gorcey, and an array of country music stars. He was author of the 1987 book, Your Memoirs — Collecting them for Fun and Posterity.

He also owned a print shop, Ohio Cold Type, where his wife, Mae, worked. He married the former Mae Canen on Feb. 11, 1940. She died Sept. 25, 2001.

Surviving are his son, Robert Rothman; daughter, Elizabeth Rothman; three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Graveside services will be at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Beth Shalom Cemetery, Oregon. Arrangements are by the Robert H. Wick/Wisniewski Funeral Home. A reception will follow at The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, Sylvania Township, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.