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Fifi Taft Rockefeller (Fay Darlene Turner)-A Look Back

Updated on February 5, 2011
Fifi and her daughter
Fifi and her daughter | Source

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.

You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover

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    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      toknowinfo, thanks for reading about Fifi, to say she was a trip would be an understatement. Peace!!

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      How amazing this story was. Indomitable to the end. I love it. Beautiful hub, thanks for sharing.

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Thanks webgain, glad you liked it!

    • webgain profile image

      webgain 6 years ago from Delhi, India

      good informative hub..

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi James, glad you enjoyed it! Peace!!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      What an incredible story! I enjoyed learning about Fifi. R.I.P. Thank you!

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi twentyfive, she was one of a kind. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about her. Peace!!

    • twentyfive profile image

      twentyfive 6 years ago

      Surely there's something special about this woman. I loved the way you wrote this.. so touching. Beautiful lady and beautiful hub Tom. Cheers!

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hey Micky Dee, I'm glad somebody finally got that connection. We should be thankful we're not that kind of people. Justin says yo too. Peace!! Tom

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      Beautiful stuff Tom. I liked that video too. You cannot judge a book by its cover. People do it every day. The really weird people do. God bless you Tom! Tell that Justin I said yo!

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi Vern, glad you liked hearing about Fifi. I really miss people like her. Maybe in a couple of years I'll be the village idiot and someone will write a hub about me. Always happy when you enjoy and comment on what are really just life stories. Thanks bro! Peace!!

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hey Tony, thanks for checking out this story and I couldn't agree more! Peace!!

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 6 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Tom, you have done it one more time and obviously not the last. There are so many wonderful people in this world that I will never know, but at least through your hubs, I get to meet and know a few of them or many of them depending upon how many more hubs you share with us,

      You are so much like the people you write about. Different, making sure the truth is out and spread, and spotligting the truth at no one's expense. It is just truth, after all and costs no one NOTHING. The embarrasmment of truth is not really a cost. It is the chance you took in the first place, right? When you lose, you just don't win, but there's no cost! Or is there?! Man, I need to just go to bed!! BUT THANKS SO MUCH FOR INTRODUCING ME TO ANOTHER ONE OF YOUR MAWVELOUS FRIENDS.

      Vern

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      What a fascinating person she was, and I love fascinating people! Truly great. We certainly need more of her ilok to brighten our world.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi Prasetio, she was a tough lady but also very fragile. I'm always happy when you take the time to visit and comment my friend! Peace!!

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi Healing Touch, people like her make my world a better place. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about her. Peace!!

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hi Merle Ann, I was still up but pre-occupied. I'm thinking about that bourbon for the stupor bowl but I haven't decided yet. Hope your celebration was fun! Peace and Love!! Tom

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very entertaining. Thanks for share this story. Fifi was very tough lady. Vote up. God bless you.

      Your best friend, prasetio

    • Healing Touch profile image

      Laura Arne 6 years ago from Minnetonka, MN

      What a lovely tribute to a colorful character. Great hub. I love the picture of fifi and daughter. There are so many homeless people walking the streets. It is so very sad. Sounds like fifi had fun.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 6 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Tom...so you are still up?? well of course that song reminded you of her...or anyone actually. I loved the hub and NO I do not have a recording anywhere because we didn't know about that then ho hum..it was a looong time ago my dear. but we were young and pretty and we did well. I also played in my highschool play production...but as i have said b 4 am a Jack of all trades my dear...and the Master of none

      ...and no it was not in Berkely it was in a town called Oakland, Cal. where by the way I got my first( and only) driving ticket...I was so bad..I put my poor mom through living hell back then in them there times...

      Am now on the 2nd bottle to celebrate my son's BD...heee hee, but will save some ha ha ha for 2-morrow...HUGS ! ! ! Merle Ann

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Haaaa, Merle Ann, when you say western band that's what I consider it. Roy and Gene etc. Did you play country western? With a steel guitar and an accordian I guess you girls did it all. Was that in Berkeley? I know you've got a recording of that band laying around somewhere. Go get it and put it up! I put that song on here because it reminded me of her, that's all. Peace and Love!! Tom

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 6 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Tom, well excuse me..we were very modern and no I did not sing I played guitar, electric, we had a steel guitar, a piano and a accordian off and on...wished we had a drummer, but you see we were all women, and back then it wasn't heard of.

      I am always ahead of my time...both for the game and celebrating (alone) my son's Birthday today, he lives in Calif. so I couldn't let this occasion go by un-celebrated...cough cough...oh dear hope I am not getting a cold???

      And not to judge Fifi by the words I quoted, just as the song title says "You can't Judge a Book by it's Cover" though am sure she wasn't covering anything but her body???..Hic Hic talk to ya later...you gonna watch the big game?village man???:O)ha ha lol :O) HUGS ! ! Merle Ann

      EPIC FAIL

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Ew..that love hate thing. There's no way to justify that but don't ya' love those kind of chicks :-P That kind of tension is pretty exciting.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Yeah, but as we speak I'm arguing with my future wife, the philosophy queen, something fierce; she's trying to find a way to justify 1/3 of the black male population being in prison without being racist about it.

      FAILFAILFAIL!

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Yeah we do Todd maybe in a few years I can be the village idiot...aw shit man, I already am. There used to be some fun people on the streets, too many punks now always lookin' to start something. Too many zombies!!

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hey Merle Ann, I'm glad you pointed out the tune. If I'd have judged Fifi like that I'd never have had the pleasure of knowing her. You were in a western band? Are you a tumblin' tumbleweed? Did you sing Happy Trails to You? Was Dale Evans your hero? Roy Rogers? OK, I'm done :-P. Did you play or sing or both? You're getting buzzed for the game...umm I'm tellin'. Peace and Love!! Tom

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Hey Dar, I knew you'd like Fifi (Darlene :-D). Yeah there is some truth to street people being drunks and a little off but truthfully most all of them I knew were harmless and really quite interesting. It is different now, mentally ill folks are left on the streets to fend for themselves and some just can't. Thanks for stopping by girlfriend! Peace!!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Damn, don't know if I can match that one; Dallas and Kaufman just ain't got that kind of character, or if they do, then I've not had the pleasure as of yet.

      Great article, we need more characters, and fewer zombies in this world.

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      jandee, glad you enjoyed Fifi! Peace!!

    • justom profile image
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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Thanks Will, I've read a few of yours and compared to that I don't know but I appreciate it.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 6 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      TOM...

      "You can't read a mind, doesn't mean there is no pain"...

      from the song.."You Can't Judge a Book by it's Cover"

      wow this band reminds me of the western band I played in...years ago...we didn't have a drummer, but did have an accordian player...Hee hee

      This was very interesting as I am sure there are many we never hear about...Thanks for sharing...off to buy some champagne...hic hic...for tomorrow of course SUPERBOWL SUNDAY...:O) HUGS !!! Merle Ann

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Wow, what a great lady and excellent hub, and we share the same name....The city life, back in the day the street people were safe and kind, where I grew up in the country I never heard of street people. But, they were mostly drunks or a wee bit nuts. I toast you now for the life Fifi is living where ever she is...one of a kind just like her. Love you boyfriend, bye Fifi, rate up and love & peace darski

    • profile image

      jandee 6 years ago

      You brought this woman to life! A good job ! I liked the bit about 'mooning to construction workers. Excellent,jandee

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      "I'm not much of a writer .."

      Oh, I beg to differ!

    • justom profile image
      Author

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Thanks Will, I'm not much of a writer but I guess I manage to string some words together that at least make sense to me :-D Thanks again for reading and commenting. Peace!!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      What a character and what a fine narration.

      Good job!