This obituary was submitted to WCPO.
Bobbie Lynn Sterne, who played a prominent and influential role in Cincinnati’s political scene for nearly 30 years, died from natural causes Nov. 22. She passed away in Santa Cruz, Calif., with her daughters by her side. She would have turned 98 on Nov. 27.
She served as a Cincinnati City Council member and a two-term mayor, earning international attention as one of the first women mayors of a major American city.
Born Nov. 27, 1919, Bobbie grew up in the northeastern corner of Ohio in Portage County. She graduated from Streetsboro High School and received her nursing degree from the former Akron City School of Nursing. She won a seat on Cincinnati City Council in 1971 and, except for a two-year hiatus, served until her 1998 retirement.
Her childhood home was a gathering place for neighbors and friends, where good food and good music – led by her father’s fiddle – were a regular occurrence. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s father died when she was 12 and the family lost their home. Despite many hardships, Bobbie’s childhood memories were happy ones. She was very close with her sister and maintained lifelong loves of nature, violin music and the places and people of her childhood.
Bobbie’s parents instilled in her a great appreciation for democracy, freedom and America. If something was important, she couldn’t simply leave its fate to others: She had to be part of it.
That’s why when World War II erupted, Bobbie said, “They’re not going to have a war without me!” She joined the 25th General Hospital Division of Cincinnati and served in England, France and Belgium.
She met and married her husband, Dr. Eugene Sterne, in France during the war. When it ended, the couple returned to Eugene’s hometown of Cincinnati, where they resided in North Avondale and started a family. Lynn was born in 1947 and Cindy arrived two years later.
For many years prior to serving on City Council, Bobbie was a tireless volunteer. She helped create health clinics for the underserved, providing pre- and post-natal care for mothers and babies who had no access to health services. As a Health Department Volunteer, she spearheaded immunization programs in schools and neighborhoods.
She was an ardent voice for those who lacked an advocate; a political leader whose commitment to public service was defined by her grace, determination and unflinching belief that a great city deserved a City Hall that worked for all of its citizens. Throughout her life in Cincinnati, Bobbie consistently campaigned and raised money for candidates and issues that would enhance equality and add services for the physically and emotionally challenged; African-Americans; women; the LGBTQ community; recovering addicts; and criminals re-entering society.
In her childhood home, she was remembered simply and memorably as Bobbie Lynn, the earnest tomboy and hard-working child of the Great Depression who roamed the fields and creeks near Streetsboro before heading to nursing school and World War II. She maintained lifelong friendships with those from her elementary school, nursing school and military service, as well as with those she befriended in Cincinnati.
But there was also Bobbie Sterne, the family woman. She and her husband shared an ideal marriage, remarkably well-suited and extremely happy together until Eugene’s untimely death in 1977. While their daughters were growing up, Bobbie was actively involved in their lives. She was a volunteer for the Charter Party, Health Department and multiple civic causes while also serving as PTA president of North Avondale School and leader of both her daughters’ Brownie & Girl Scout troops. She sewed prom dresses and Halloween costumes from patterns she created.
“Our parents always welcomed our friends into our home, no matter their race or background,” daughter Cindy Sterne said. “Our house was the place where friends regularly congregated, with the freezer always packed with varieties of Graeter’s ice cream and the cabinet filled with homemade baked goods.”
Daughter Lynn Sterne Bush added, “I learned so many things from Mom. She’s the person who taught me how to dance the Charleston, and the one who taught me to climb to the very top of a tree. Mom wanted us to be familiar with rural life, so she’d take us to a friend’s farm in Kentucky, where Cindy and I learned to milk cows and clean stables.”
Bobbie was an adventurous traveler, a voracious reader and an avid supporter of Cincinnati’s rich arts scene. She had season tickets to Cincinnati’s symphony, chamber music, ballet and theaters; and held memberships for the museums and Cincinnati Zoo.
Bobbie kept up with current events. Just weeks before her death, she celebrated with her daughters the public conversations sparked by the courageous women speaking up about sexual abuse. “It’s about time that there are consequences for this type of unacceptable behavior,” Bobbie said.
Bobbie believed in the American Dream and felt a responsibility to help others achieve it. Throughout her political career, she was a mentor to many, including a new generation of women who ran for office.
Arnold Leff, a former son-in-law and former Cincinnati Health Commissioner, said, “Bobbie jump-started my career in public health and was always there to support me and the health of the community.”
Friends, relatives, employees and fellow political leaders will remember Bobbie for her love of Cincinnati, wit, intelligence, integrity, positive spirit and unyielding compassion for others.
Survivors include daughters Cindy Sterne of San Francisco and Lynn Sterne Bush of Aptos, Calif.; nephew John Dunlap and family of Mountain Home, Arkansas; and son-in-law Dr. Arnold Sterne Leff of Boulder Creek, Calif.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Eugene H. Sterne, Jr.; sister, Mavis Dunlap; and parents Vernon C. Lynn and Eva Dodds Lynn.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to any of the following: the Charter Committee; Emily’s List; Planned Parenthood; or any Greater Cincinnati organization that supports people who are homeless, disadvantaged or discriminated against.
To share stories, search “Bobbie Sterne” on the digital site, Legacy.com.
She will be remembered and celebrated at a Dec. 6 Memorial Service at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm Street, in Cincinnati. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. and a memorial service begins at 11:30 a.m. A reception will follow.