Today's Chicago Woman publishing last issue in January

Sherren Leigh closes Today's Chicago Woman after 32 years of publication.

Today's Chicago Woman, a monthly magazine for professional women and an early megaphone for the city's feminists, will end publication next month after 32 years, founder and president Sherren Leigh said Tuesday.

The January issue, which hits newsstands Friday, will be the last.

"I want the luxury of a do-nothing day," Leigh said. "I have a house in Michigan, and I used to joke after I turned 50, the new three G's were geezers, gardening and golf, and I haven't had time for any of them."

She said the recent deaths of her ex-husband and close friends, including Flying Food Group founder Sue Ling Gin and Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, were factors in her decision.

"I'm thinking: Oh my God, I'm in really good health, excellent health, but at the end of the day, I'm kind of fried," said Leigh, 72. "I just want to enjoy some of the things life has to offer since I'm not going to live forever."

Leigh launched the business as a women's career convention in 1979 at Chicago's Apparel Mart, charging $5 for an advance ticket and drawing about 17,000 people, or 13,000 more than she anticipated.

She took the conference to six or seven cities in the 1980s, including Houston, where almost all of the attendees seemed to have heard about it through a women's magazine called Matrix.

So she launched one of her own in 1982, billing "Today's Chicago Woman" as a "smart read" for "smart women." She remembers warning women about the AIDS epidemic long before it was discussed openly, and getting prominent figures, such as boutique owner Joan Weinstein and former TV anchor Mary Laney, to open up about personal struggles.

"Vogue magazine had an article, 'Eight Women to Watch in the '80s,' and I was one of them," Leigh said. "And I quickly became a spokeswoman for women's rights in the workforce because I was truly passionate about the idea that if you have financial independence, you have equality. After that, any of the feminist rights would be a given."

Ever ready with a quip, Leigh added: "I used to say, equality will have arrived when mediocre women enjoy the same job opportunities that mediocre men have enjoyed for years."

She stopped organizing conventions in 1986 after, she says, the then-general manager of the Hyatt Regency Chicago tore up her contract when the National Restaurant Association's annual convention needed the space because the Hilton Chicago was undergoing renovation.

TCW, which is distributed by Chicago Tribune Distribution Services, has four full-time employees, including Leigh, and a part-time vice president of operations, Fara Lazzara, who has worked with Leigh since 1982. In recent years, the magazine was buoyed with cover images from photographer Victor Skrebneski, who was shooting for a paltry fee.

Leigh and Skrebneski always have acknowledged a volatile working relationship. The two had a falling out on deadline earlier this year, causing his images to drop from the publication, but they remain friends, Leigh said.

The most difficult people to work with were journalists who filed dull profiles.

"I would read it and say, 'This is kind of boring,' and they'd say, 'Well, the person was boring,'" Leigh said. "That really gets me, because there is no such thing as a boring person. You have just not asked the right questions."

She advised reporters to ask story subjects to share things people would be surprised to know about them.

Like Leigh's favorite TV program was "Duck Dynasty."

Yes. Like that.

A native of suburban Cleveland, Leigh came to Chicago in 1968 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Ohio University and falling in love with the city's architecture. Her first job was as public relations director of the Metal Lath Association. She did work for the Gypsum Association too.

Her straight silver hair, cut in a long bob with bangs, is easily recognized at corporate and society events, as is her bluntness. On one of the first times we met, she told me my column photo made me look too old.

"We need more women in elected office and to do something constructive about crime in the neighborhoods. And we need a mayor who stops running around the country fundraising and pays attention to what's going on in our city," she said. "Right in front of Neiman Marcus, there is a pothole right now that is not to be believed. ... And that's Michigan Avenue."

She once wrote an editorial that advised women under age 30 to "have an affair with a married man and get it out of your system."

"I could not have lasted in the corporate world," she admits. "But I do have a mantra I try to adhere to these days when I'm dealing with the suits, and that is, 'Even a fish doesn't get caught if he keeps his mouth shut.'"

When it went to press earlier this month, Leigh wasn't sure January's issue would be her last. Thus, her editor's letter did not include the coda she wanted, a symbol journalists often use to indicate the end of a story.

So this one's for you, Sherren.

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mmharris@tribpub.com

Twitter @chiconfidential

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