The Redford Theatre recently lost one of its strongest supporters. Ethel O’Leary, familiar to many Redford visitors as an attendant of the ladies’ restroom, passed away in mid-January at the extraordinary age of 101.
Ethel helped introduce the Redford to many moviegoers and Redford volunteers through her phone calls to the Saturday radio show of WJR-AM host “Fat” Bob Taylor. I’ve talked my mother into visiting the Redford several times, and her visits always made her think of Ethel’s friendly voice on Saturday morning radio.
I’ll never forget an evening about five years ago when I was listening to some organ music near the front of the Redford auditorium. Ethel eased into a seat in front of me, introduced herself, and started a pleasant conversation. From her comments about the theater and its volunteers, you could tell she was a spirited, motivated person who was making the most of life.
It just won’t be the same without seeing Ethel slowly but persistently push herself towards the back of the Redford auditorium, using her walker. Ethel often would nod a greeting towards me as she passed.
I’ll also fondly remember the warm feeling of respect with which people greeted her in the outer lobby, especially after she reached the century mark on December 24, 2005. In an article about that impressive milestone, Detroit News columnist Neil Rubin wrote about Ethel’s remarkable life, which began in South Carolina and brought her to Detroit in 1925:
“Ethel O’Leary, it should be noted, is a delight—smart, funny and well past complaining about the pranks time has played on her physically.”
A solemn moment of respect was reserved for Ethel before showings of The Caine Mutiny at the Redford on January 19 and 20, 2007. David Martin of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society noted that Ethel was known as the “Redford Sweetheart”.
Ethel could easily symbolize all of the volunteers at the Redford, who provided another fun evening of entertainment with Humphrey Bogart’s dramatic performance in The Caine Mutiny, Dave Calendine’s dynamic organ performance, and tasty and reasonably priced concession stand snacks.
So Ethel’s work is done, but the Redford lives on, a legacy of her commitment.
Copyright 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.