Barefoot, with a champagne glass in hand.
That's how Sue Black was, the last time I saw her.
It was a Thursday night about a month ago at Boerner Botanical Gardens at Whitnall Park. Live concerts happen there that night all summer long, and I've had the honor of being the emcee--I live but a mile away, so it's an easy glide down 92nd Street on my bike to show the colors and have a few beers with the guy who helps pick up the tab for the shows, Mark Wimmer of Wimmer Communities.
Sue Black, now the FORMER head of the Milwaukee County Parks system, would join us a night or two each season, almost always at the beginning of the year to tout her department's most recent accomplishments and to remind people what great parks we have. Sue was more frequent this year, and it was always a blast to down a few and get caught up as the band would play their first couple of numbers. She'd almost always join me on stage--I'd do the spiel about the concert series and she'd do her parks pitch.
We were getting out act down pretty good. Looks like the days of Black and Mueller are over, though, at least at Boerner on Thursday nights.
This week's shocking news of her abrupt dismissal has folks buzzing into the weekend, especially since the guy that pulled the trigger, County Exec Chris Abele, won't tell them why, other than to say he doesn't deal in "gossip" and that he owes taxpayers correct decisions.
Time will tell about that second part, because Black will be hard to replace. Not impossible--no one is irreplaceable--but because of the energy, personality, salesperson-ship and vigor Black brought to the gig. Ability? Well, I never worked for her and I would love to hear from those who did. We can only assume she had things on lockdown, judging by the array of awards she'd won and the fact that Abele was among those battling for her to stay in Milwaukee when Chicago came a'callin'. Abele even gave her a couple of good-sized pay bumps.
Then came Thursday afternoon, a curt meeting, a locked office and a dead cell phone. That, and little in the way of an explanation.
Abele's hands may be legally tied--depending on the grounds, his HR department may be keeping him from saying anything. You know what that's like if you work in an office.
Was it performance-related? Did Black do something else? No one knows, and those who do aren't talking.
Thursday night came and went at Boerner, with Sammy Llanas on stage and a better-than-decent gathering on the grass to hear him, people who chose the former BoDean over a Packers preseason clash. Don't know how many of the assembled knew of Black's dismissal--Wimmer didn't until a parks employee told him just before the show began. I made no mention of it on stage, duty I did alone thinking maybe, just maybe, Black would come scampering up on stage as she sometimes would do, maybe if nothing else to say thank and goodbye.
She didn't. The music began, and Mark and I headed for the bar.
Sue Black never showed.
So what's left for me is the memory of the last time, Sue with glass in hand, barefoot, up on stage next to me. She was celebrating something special that night, she told me before we went to the mikes, insisting that I stop where she'd camped out with the rest of the crowd before I headed home.
I forgot, and never found out the reason for her bash.
What I remember, though, is Sue Black seemingly as happy as she could be and doing what she does best: telling people about a parks system that she was very, very proud of, eager to tell the people who paid her salary that she was doing the best job she could.
Someone, somewhere thinks they can find a person who can do all that better. None of us know who. None of us know why. But I, for one, can't wait to see who that someone is.
It's going to be a tough act to follow.