Skip to main content

Red-carpet touch

This was a fourth-and-short long ball without the quarterback and a zero blitz without a middle backer. But this was a Sharon Thomas deal and it was coming off hell or high water because that's the way she always called the game.

"I think," says Lindsay Reisert, who came off the bench in style, "Sharon would have done it a little bit bigger. But I think she's happy knowing how little time we had."

The Paul Brown Stadium club lounge overlooking Cincinnati's towers and terminals has seen many Thomas events. Her memorial service Thursday could have been one of them.

A fundraiser for Special Olympics. Or an awards ceremony for disadvantaged youth. Or one of those breast cancer awareness lunches she engineered even while the disease racked her body.

And this is the time of year, the offseason, she literally would spring into action and run through the summer.

"I don't think I ever believed she wouldn't be here with us," says Marvin Lewis, who brought her to town in 2003 to run his foundation. "I just figured she would beat it."

She beat everything else in the last six years to turn the Marvin Lewis Community Fund from a brainstorm into one of the most recognizable, relentless and resourceful enterprises in Greater Cincinnati.

Apathy. Poverty. Recession. You name it, and as the fund's executive director she willed past it, taking that Cincinnati Bengals check for $10,000 at the start and turning it into $5 million for those who need it most.

Lewis is having a tough, busy day. But Thomas would have been proud of him.

In the morning he introduces the newest Bengal to Cincinnati, Laveranues Coles, with resolute optimism. In the afternoon he brings it along to say goodbye.

Lewis has spoken at camps and clinics, to teams and teens, for causes and CEOs, but he never has to do what he does Thursday when he speaks before about 350 people.

"Tough," he is saying, looking around the clutch of people who stay behind to remember in little groups. "This is a reflection of who she was and what she did."

Bengals, of course. Kickers then and now, Jim Breech and Shayne Graham. A Hall of Fame anchor like Anthony Munoz and a network anchor like Solomon Wilcots. Nancy Brown, wife of Bengals president Mike Brown.

Jack Cassidy, CEO of Cincinnati Bell. Restaurateur Dean Gregory. Cincinnati Enquirer publisher Margaret Buchanan.

Movers. Shakers. Thomas could always get them to move and shake in one direction.

"She touched a lot of people," Reisert is saying, having a tough day herself as the foundation's marketing chief and Thomas' top lieutenant.

All of them couldn't have fit Thursday in the room. They probably would have sold out PBS if they just took the Hometown Huddle alone. Thomas took what amounted to a field trip for kids and it turned it into a massive civic project that annually transformed inner-city schools, parks or playgrounds.

Take Youth Inc., a residential program for at-risk children aimed to keep them out of jail and in school. The fundraiser started as a cozy boat trip raising anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 and Thomas has grown it into a $400,000 operation known as Rookies and Ribs night where the May cruise is topped off by dinner and drinks at Montgomery Inn as Lewis introduces his rookies.

Thomas pulled it off much like she taught Reisert to do it on Thursday.

First class all the way.

A downtown view. A harp. A cello. A flute. An open bar and a pile of hors d oeuvres. A video tribute.

And nice big pictures like she made sure were hung out at, say, the MLCF reception, the glitzy night before his golf tournament.

There was a great photo of Thomas, snapped in the middle of one of those events. Raven hair and dark flashing eyes that could move corporations one minute and the next get the best of an NFL assistant coach in some rough-and-tumble but friendly give-and-take. A red-carpet touch with steel wool will.

And the Bengals coaches were there, replacing their sweats with suit jackets for the afternoon. They helped her put on Football 101 every year, a veritable ladies night that was half sorority bash, half summer camp. Tight ends coach Jon Hayes, a grizzled 12-year NFL veteran with the Chiefs and Steelers, will tell you she always gave as good as she got if he ever teased her when she might have jumped into one of his drills.

"She," Tom McGill is saying, "didn't back down from anyone or any challenge."

McGill works for Game Day Communications, which shares office space with Lewis' foundation. One of his co-workers, Stephanie Mileham, is remembering one of the gifts she got from an office secret Santa. She knew right away who it was because the box was done up just right.

"That's the way she did everything," Reisert is saying as she watches everything because that's what Thomas did.

Lewis knows all about moving on. It's part of the game.

"She did it with such professionalism and passion," Lewis says. "That's how she's raised the people working for her. She brought them from the ground up and they're going to do it for her and the way she did."

The cello and the harp and the flute are packing up. But somehow you get the feeling they'll be back here soon because that sound is Thomas' kids getting ready to roll out her red carpet for the next event.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content