Mr. Lindner died Oct. 17, 2011, at the age of 92.
I had told my girls more than once that there was a time when you could not drive down a street in Cincinnati without seeing something owned or touched by Carl Lindner, our city's "Uncle Carl." He owned so many things.
His family started the United Dairy Farmers chain, which remains our favorite place to get ice cream, snacks and gas. Mr. Lindner went on to launch American Financial Group, which made billions from the insurance business and from corporate acquistions. Later, that company would employ a close friend, one of the smartest guys I ever met, into fairly high position of responsibility.
At various points, Mr. Lindner owned Provident Bank and the city's largest savings-and-loan, both of which had branches all over town. He owned Kings Island, where millions have enjoyed roller coasters and nightly fireworks shows. He held controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds. He owned Chiquita Brands and John Morrell meats. He owned the Cincinnati Enquirer (but not while I worked there.) and some TV and radio stations over the years.
For the out-of-towners, in addition to Chiquita, Mr. Lindner once held control of New York's Grand Central Station, the Circle K chain of convenience stores, and the Penn Central railroad conglomerate, which among other things, held a lot of common stock in Amtrak. The man even owned Scooby Doo, the Jetsons and the Flintstones through his interests in Hanna-Barbera (which had been acquired through Taft Broadcasting at one time).
I think it would be hard to count up all the people Mr. Lindner employed over his lifetime; I'm guessing several hundred thousand. Harder still to tote up the hundreds of millions of customers and consumers who bought or otherwise enjoyed his products and services. But even those far-reaching stats fail to capture the measure of Mr. Lindner's impact.
He also gave many millions to philanthropic causes large and small. One could count owning the Reds as one of those causes, a somewhat unsuccessful gesture made mostly from his love of his hometown. But his better gifts include deep support for the University of Cincinnati, the launching of a major private Christian school, the creation of a cardiovascular research center, and widespread support of other fine arts and charities.
Personally, I think one of his greatest gifts to the city was to underwrite the Lindner Center of HOPE, a mental health treatment center built in Mason and opened in 2008. The place is beautiful. And it serves a sorely, sorely undermet need in our community.
In the year 2000, I spent a lot of time at the Enquirer writing about the declining state of mental health care in Cincinnati, especially for children and teens, especially for those with the dual-diagnosis of mental illness and substance addiction. I don't know if that work made a big difference, but in 2005 when the Lindner family (Carl and Craig) put up $30 million to create the new center, I did feel like somebody with power was paying attention.
Among the Lindner family's smaller gifts was one that directly touched our family. The Lindners gave important gifts to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center to help with its project to convert a grand old mansion, once used as a funeral home, into a distinguished community arts center. My wife served on that arts center board and still sells some of her art jewelry there. It was a huge thrill for her and everyone else involved to have the Lindners visit, which they did. More than once.
And that's the thing. Mr. Lindner was THERE. He grew up in Norwood and lived his later years in Indian Hill. But he always made Cincinnati his home, and he made that home as nice a place as he could. From knowing people who knew him better than I ever will, I can say that his loyalty to his employees was immense. His loyalty to his city no less so.
Mr. Lindner did cavort in a world of business titans and political powerbrokers. He was after all, a billionaire who was among the Forbes 400 richest list for a number of years. So he had big business interests and he was known by many for being tough and shrewd as he went about that business. He was more than willing to throw his weight around when it suited him. But, frankly, I would expect no less of any billionaire. So I cannot find much fault with how Mr. Lindner used his money. In fact, I wish more rich people had even a tenth of the civic-mindedness that Mr. Lindner had.
The bigger truth was that this man was bigger than his money. He really was the "Uncle Carl" who could be seen by anybody, just driving along the streets of Norwood. Cruising past the old family business and the old family home.
You are truly at home now, Mr. Lindner. Rest in peace.