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Published: 2/21/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

Owens a tough and gracious lady

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Donna Owens is Toledo's last Republican mayor. Republicans like to think that is not a forever thing.

If she felt like running again, it might not be.

She is in her 70s now, but she seems much younger. She is still deeply involved in Toledo's civic life. She talks about her friends in the Fire Department with devotion and great emotion. She says the week of the funerals of James Dickman and Stephen Machcinski was emotionally draining for her. She forged a bond with the department when she was mayor. After work was over, she says, she formed the habit of stopping by different fire stations for a visit and a cup of coffee, and that turned into dinners — with various stations competing for who could make the nicest meal for the mayor. Now she is on the Toledo Firefighters Museum board. It’s her favorite cause.

Ms. Owens has had her ups and downs. She was touched by the Tom Noe fund-raising and money laundering scandals (and paid a $1,000 fine). A big federal job under President George H.W. Bush was denied her by the late Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. She could have done a lot for Toledo in that post, she says. She talks about her one political defeat, for a fourth term in 1989, as if it were yesterday. But, amazingly, she seems to have no bitterness or regret. Things work out, she says, and in time, you see things that seemed to be defeats were often lucky breaks. She spent 14 years in state government, including the governor's cabinet. She never moved to Columbus, though — she had two aging parents to care for in Toledo.

She tells me how much she loved my boss of many years ago, Bernard Judy, because he was funny, knew everyone in Toledo, and was a tireless booster of the city.

What does she love most about the city she once led? Its spirit of compassion and its can-do attitude, especially in the business community.

What frustrates her? We don't think outside the box, she says, and that makes it hard to keep momentum when there is forward progress.

She is excited these days by two developments: ProMedica moving downtown and Romules Durant.

Is she still a Republican? Yes, and proudly. Government only creates jobs for the government class, she says. Private enterprise has to be unleashed. Jobs are the best ways to combat gangs.

But she is no Tea Partier. Her idea of a great Republican and a great president is Bush I. Knowledge, experience, and balance, made him great, she says. And he's also just a good man.

In recent years, Ms. Owens has developed a passion for travel. She says she learned the same thing traveling as in politics: People are people. No one is really above the fray.

Ms. Owens began political life as a mom lobbying for better playground equipment. Now she is content to take hot soup to firefighters and give them hugs. “She still does a lot for the city” says ex-mayor Carty Finkbeiner. “That's sweet,” she says. The compliment lands softly before she brushes it aside. She's a tough and gracious lady, and she lives in the present tense.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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