Remembering Some of Detroit’s Most Amazing Women: Friends we’ve loved and lost stay with us forever

Julie Taubman standing in front of Detroit’s once-abandoned, historic Michigan Central Station, now becoming part of Ford Motor Company’s Detroit operations.


On a recent visit to Detroit, I walked the hallway to the terminal thinking:

I’m home.

Although we’ve spent most of the last 20 years in Florida or northern Michigan, Detroit remains home.  While it’s faced challenges over the years, it’s still a great place to be and be from.

The feeling started on the Delta flight. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and wife Trudy were on the plane.  Trudy reminded me of the day in the late 1960s, when I was a columnist for The Detroit News.  I featured Trudy and Joyce Cohn and a couple of other fabulous ladies on the steps of the DIA.

That got me thinking about the fabulous women I’ve known in the D, many of whom I met as a journalist.  I wrote a list of remarkable Detroit women I’ve known, liked or loved, and lost.  And that exercise had me tearing up.  Lacking tissue, I was glad I paper napkins had accompanied my beverage.

I hope you, dear reader, have been privileged to know some of them.

I encourage you to write a list of your own.  Feel free to share it with me on Facebook.

Dynamic Detroit Dames I’ve been blessed to love and bereft to lose…

Florence Barron, an interior designer who was wired into the New York art scene. She complained of being old and infirm but rallied with zest when climbing stairs to artists’ lofts. I wrote the last profile on her during her lifetime. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol wanted to paint her portrait. Instead she requested he create a self-portrait.  She paid $1600, in four installments. In 2011, that 4-panel acrylic silkscreen was estimated to sell at auction for $20-$30 million.

Patricia Burnett, an artist who painted portraits of many Detroit VIPs.  Patricia was a runner up Miss America and the first woman to occupy a studio in the Detroit artists collective, the Scarab Club. She and Marj Levin started the Michigan chapter of NOW, the National Organization of Women. I attended their first official meeting.

Joyce Cohn, wife of then attorney and eventual senior US District Court Judge Avern Cohn.  A beautiful redhead and generous philanthropist.  With a razor sharp wit, Joyce bore her cancer diagnosis with grit and grace.

Dollie Cole, pretty, energetic and down to earth wife of GM president Ed Cole.  She helped Burton buy his first Corvette. She loved horses as well as horse power. Later in life she moved to a ranch out west.

Virginia DeVoy, owner of Julie’s, a sophisticated boutique in the Fisher Building.  Outspoken and funny, Virginia had great fashion sense and dressed the Grosse Pointe elite.  (Her sister, Ruth Ruwe, was one of them.)  When Virginia died, I wrote a poem about her.  The last stanza: “Now she’s up there with Coco Chanel/ Gossiping and raising a little hell.”  Ruth put the poem into Virginia’s casket, rendering Virginia and me friends for eternity.

Jackie Feigenson, owner of the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building.  I developed my passion for First Generation Cass Corridor art by visiting Jackie’s gallery often.  She gave serious representation to Detroit’s first artistic avant-garde and won national respect for a few of them.  Jackie’s featured in my latest book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond: Adventures of an Art Collector.

Shelley Golden, founder of SEE Eyewear. In an earlier column, I wrote about how Shelley Golden was a rock star to the multitudes who knew and loved her. This loss still smarts as Shelley died recently and, at 75, WAY too young. Shelley campaigned for funds for breast and ovarian cancer research.  Munching BBQ potato chips on her deck overlooking Round Lake in Charlevoix was one of the highlights of summer.

Suzanne Feld Hilberry. Though not a close friend, I admired Suzanne greatly.  Along with Linda Dresner, Marsha Miro and Julie Taubman, she started MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit). Their efforts were a big factor in gaining respect for Detroit on the international art scene.

Gertrude Kasle. I wrote about art dealer Gertrude Kasle in an earlier column. Owner of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the Fisher Building, she was gracious, beautiful, wise and well-connected with major artists of her day. She showed art history-making painters like Philip Guston and Helen Frankenthaler.  She convinced them to come to our fly-over state by promising to sell at least one painting. Often, she was the lone buyer. Gertrude gave Detroit-born artist Brenda Goodman her first significant gallery show. Brenda’s painting is on the cover of my book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond.

Florence Knudsen.  Met her when her son was about to marry Judy Fisher Chrysler. The wife of Ford Motor president Seymour (Bunkie) Knudsen, Florence was gracious and classy but didn’t take herself too seriously.

Marji Kunz, fashion editor for both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.  In the early ‘60s, Marji was an editor of Mademoiselle Magazine.  I entered their College Board competition and became a semi-finalist.  In New York that summer, I met Marji on a visit to Mademoiselle’s offices.  Though I dropped out of the competition, Marji remembered me several years after when I applied (and was turned down) for a job at the Freep.  She later called to alert me to a position which I won, as a correspondent for Fairchild Publications.

Marj Levin, a feature writer and gossip columnist for the Detroit Free Press who co-founded NOW, MI, with Patty Burnett.  A close friend with whom I attended writers’ conferences.  Marj wrote a clever, thinly veiled profile of someone we knew, intended for a national publication.  It was declined, and she submitted it to the Freep, forgetting to change details which identified her subject to those who knew him.  When the article published, the man she referenced was so mad he poured a water over her at their country club. When Marj lay dying of lung cancer, friends gathered at her bedside nightly for Vodka and Clamato juice, in which Marj also partook.  I still drink that cocktail, remembering my colorful, gutsy friend.

Lydia Winston Malbin.  A distant cousin and voracious early collector of modern art who helped develop support for modern art at the DIA.  When I was 16, my grandmother, Deborah Wilkus, took me to visit Lydia’s home in Birmingham, MI.  I was blown away by art hung floor to ceiling and covering every tabletop. Years later, as an adult, I was commissioned to write what proved the last article on Lydia, at her apartment in NYC.  Much of her Italian Futurism collection hung at the Metropolitan Museum.  She took my arm as we walked across Fifth Ave. and through one of the finest museums in the world, admiring a gallery hung with her donations.

Anne MacDonald Manoogian.  Sharp, funny, generous and an avid art collector, Anne was a dear friend.  Married to wealthy Grosse Pointe magnate Richard Manoogian, Anne befriended urbane DIA modern art curator Sam Wagstaff.  When he left the DIA, partly in disgust over the negative response to an earthwork he commissioned by Michael Heizer on the grounds of the DIA, Anne threw Sam the finest dinner party I’ve ever attended at her elegant home.  She moved to California and later married (and divorced) Detroit Lions player/sports announcer Wayne Walker.  She continued her interest in modern art, founding art magazine, Shift, which published my feature on Lydia.  Anne, also, died way too young, at 75.

Irene Miller, owner of Claire Pearone, a magical women’s fashion boutique at Somerset Mall in Troy, MI, for which I wrote ad copy early in my career.  I bought wonderful designer clothing at Claire Pearone, some of which I still own 50+ years later.  When Irene died, I happily purchased two small antique chests from her estate.  They still sit proudly in our Franklin living room and remind me of their tough though charming former owner.

Bea Solomon, an interior designer who collected modern art and created stunning homes in Detroit, some of which I covered while a design editor for Detroit Monthly.  Mother of Burt’s and my longtime friend Steve Solomon, Bea often lobbied me to feature her projects, and I did.  In so persuading me, she turned my name into three syllables.  See-uuu-zee!

Tavy Stone.  As well as serving as fashion editor of The Detroit News, wildly creative Tavy also wrote and directed skits for charity benefits.  When I chaired the Detroit Fashion Group, we honored Tavy’s memory by naming a fashion library for her at the Detroit Historical Museum.  In the early 90s, hot pants were the rage.  Tavy wrote about them in a poem I wish I’d thought of: “Unless your legs are perfect joys/ Hot little pants are for hot little boys.”

Anne Perron Spivak.  A supporter of contemporary art who owned works by Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns as well as Detroit greats Gordon Newton and Michael Luchs, Anne was an active member of the DIA’s Friends of Modern Art and a devotee of curator Sam Wagstaff.  She and Anne Manoogian, both Grosse Pointers, organized a benefit of the then outrageous musical “Hair” in Detroit.  Her daughter, Michelle Perron, carries on her mother’s legacy, currently serving as director of the executive office of the Kresge Foundation.

Julie Taubman.  I wrote a 2018 column about how Julie made the world a better place. A free spirit married to our friend Bobby Taubman, Julie used her connections and wealth to promote Detroit and its artists and to help found MOCAD.  Good friends with Elmore Leonard, Julie arranged for me to meet Michigan’s legendary author. She died WAY too young, at 50.

Other cities no doubt have produced amazing women of their own.  I can only speak for our town, and for my gratitude at having known the Dynamic Detroit Dames I mention here.  While my heart aches over their loss, each of them enriched my life.  That most famous English poet of the Victorian era, Alfred Lord Tennyson, said it best.  Better to have loved and lost.  Copy that.

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2 thoughts on “Remembering Some of Detroit’s Most Amazing Women: Friends we’ve loved and lost stay with us forever

  1. Judy Komer

    Of course my sister Harriet Rotter belongs on the list, a true trailblazer for women, she set the “bar”

  2. Carol Roberts

    Sure brought back wonderful memories of glorious women we knew. Thanks Suzy for telling their stories.

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