Fifi Taft Rockefeller (Fay Darlene Turner)-A Look Back
A Cincinnati Icon
I'm not sure what got me to thinking about Fifi today. Sometimes those little things just pop into your head. I'm proud to say that I had the pleasure of knowing both Fifi and her long time boyfriend (which is a stretch because he was anything but a boy) Guy. During those years I was working in the downtown area of Cincinnati as a delivery driver for a graphics company so while I was doing my job I had the pleasure of meeting (like Fifi) folks from all walks of life. Most interesting of those were what are called street people. That guy at the White Castle every morning having a small coffee while really just there for a warm place to catch a nap before he faced the rest of his day out in the cold. Another guy who always wore a long winter coat (yeah..even in the summer) and a baseball cap while he methodically checked each and every coin return on every single pay phone in the downtown area, never speaking to anyone. All interesting and curious people but none more interesting (and yes, curious) than Ms. Fifi Taft Rockefeller. Fifi was a ball of fire and about as anti authority a person as you could meet. Some days I'd see her and Guy and they'd be headed for the courthouse for a city council meeting. She'd be wearing white boots, wild colored socks, a mink (probably was squirrel) stole and sporting a Cincinnati Reds helmet (not a hat, a helmet!). One time I remember her even wearing a kids red plastic firemans hat. I'd say to her "Hey Fifi where you headed today?" I think I said that same thing to her every time I saw her. Sometimes she'd get on a rant about politics (and don't for a minute think this woman didn't know what she was talking about) and sometimes honestly she was in la la land babbling on about nothing. Guy was a nice guy but being with Fifi didn't exactly mean he'd get a word in edgewise but he was cool with that. They really made a great couple. Here's story that local reported Laura Pulfer wrote on the death of Fifi. It's a great account of her life, I'm glad that I reflected on her today, she was one of a kind and I don't think society allows for folks like her to have a voice nowadays. I miss Fifi!! Peace!! Fifi, beloved street person,
dead at 81 Aug. 1997
BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Word made its way slowly across town, from the soup kitchens to the corner offices. Fifi was gone.Fifi Taft Rockefeller, the undisputed queen of Over-the-Rhine, died Saturday of cancer after 81 incandescent years. Struggling to put a name to the vivid and noisy display that was Fifi, some have described her as a bag lady. She was never that. And she was never homeless.She was a street person, a character, with friends in high and low places. She treated them all the same - judges, crooks, CEOs - as though they were in her employ. Or indentured servants.On a good day, she was funny and generous and charming. On a bad day, she was more charming in the abstract than in person. And she was noisy and opinionated every day.The would-be lawyer. Her wardrobe was legendary. At her 80th birthday party, she was resplendent in sequins, white silk gloves, a squirrel stole, an orange visor with feathers and white shoes with purple pompons. She favored green wigs and often wore a watch on one ankle.
She used to tell people that she had a child by Ronald Reagan and another by Elvis. She loved men, and flirted with the funeral director while she was making arrangements to cremate Guy Walters, the man she lived with for 28 years.Just about everybody who knew Fifi has a story, some of them true.Fifi began life as Fay Darlene Turner, daughter of the chief of police
in Marshall, Ill. After graduation from high school, she studied at the University of Illinois. She traveled to England, where she applied to Oxford, but they were fussy about their law students having undergraduate degrees. And although she rented a cap and gown and marched down the aisle at her university's graduation, she was never, technically, eligible.
She ran for president several times, and governor of Kentucky once. ''People loved her,'' says Mary Jane Fleming of Kenwood, who faithfully chauffeured Fifi to her once-a-week bingo games. ''She demanded and she got. There was something special about her.''
Kidnapping and burlesqueIn the 1940s, Fifi married Woody Carpenter, who lives in Cold Spring, Ky. Their daughter, Gay Caldwell, was born in 1946. ''She loved me,'' Gay says, ''in her own way.''
Gay was placed in a foster home when her mother was committed to Longview Hospital. Fifi tied some bedsheets together, exited through a window, stole an ambulance and retrieved her daughter. ''When I was really little, she kidnapped me and we hitchhiked to Illinois. She took me to burlesque shows in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and St. Louis.''Gay, a dental hygienist who lives in Dent and has raised four really nice kids of her own, says quietly that not everybody could handle having a mom like hers. ''Once,'' she says, ''I kind of divorced her.'' But only
once. And only for a year.On Monday, this kind and forgiving woman had her mother cremated. She plans to drive to Illinois to put Fifi's and Guy Walters' remains in the family plot. Next Tuesday, there will be a 1 p.m. memorial service at Fifi's soup kitchen of choice, Our Daily Bread, 1721 Logan St.in Over-the-Rhine.Everyone there no doubt will be telling Fifi stories. About bailing the drunks out of jail. About her sensational fashion flair. About her practice of mooning construction workers. About her last day, when the hospital chaplain asked what he could do for her. ''How about a kiss, honey?''Exasperating? You bet.Indomitable? To the end.