Al Dietzel, who died in March, made significant contributions to Columbus.
In April, I attended my first YWCA Women of Achievement luncheon. The annual extravaganza of female empowerment was as inspirational as advertised, and I found myself wishing my 8-year-old daughter was with me to learn about this year's seven remarkable honorees.
L Brands founder Les Wexner, one of the event's biggest backers, took the stage early in the program to welcome the crowd gathered in the Battelle Grand Ballroom at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. As he began his remarks, Wexner brought the mood down a bit by asking for a few seconds of silence to honor a couple of late friends. One was John F. Wolfe, the Columbus Dispatch publisher and community leader, whose June 2016 death was a seismic civic event in this city. The other was someone with a much lower profile, Al Dietzel, whose death in March got no public attention beyond a paid obit that ran in the Dispatch.
Dietzel was once one of Wexner's top advisors, serving as his chief public relations and civic affairs representative from the '80s until retiring in 2003. Though Wexner didn't mention it at the April event, Dietzel played a critical role in growing the Women of Achievement program into the YWCA's biggest annual event, which has honored several hundred women and raised millions to support the YWCA's mission of fighting racism and empowering women. During his time with what was then known as Limited Brands, Dietzel helped establish such programs as the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, Columbus Reads and KidsOhio.org, while also overseeing investor and media relations for the company.
He was a man of many hats. Before the Limited, he led the local United Way and the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and served in the cabinet of Gov. Dick Celeste as his economic development director. “I followed him pretty closely through those four major jobs,” says New Albany Co. Chairman Jack Kessler, who helped him secure the United Way, the Chamber and the Limited positions. “He left all four of them in better shape than when he found them.”
And he did it with a unique style. He was good-humored, enthusiastic, energetic and vigorous—celebrating his 65th birthday, for instance, with a 2-mile run, 18-holes of golf, bench-pressing 180 pounds and skydiving from 10,000 feet, all in one day. On this page, you can see a classic photo of Dietzel at the Easton Town Center groundbreaking ceremony in 1998—mischievous expression, loud tie, devil-may-care attitude, his arms wrapped around the Terminator and the richest man in Ohio. “I really think Al Dietzel was the consummate people person, and that's why he was a success,” says Jill Esposito, his stepdaughter.
I spoke to Dietzel just once—around 2003, just as he retired from the Limited and was moving to Connecticut, his wife Sharon's home state. (Sharon died in 2010, and Dietzel, who suffered from dementia in recent years, died at 86 of a burst esophagus, Esposito says.) I obviously didn't know Dietzel well, but as I spoke to those who did, I was struck by the appropriateness of Wexner's tribute during the Women of Achievement program. Not only did Dietzel help get the event off the ground, but he also spent many years writing a book about the accomplishments of women in the 20th century, a project he called the most important of his life. Moreover, he personally was devoted to helping women succeed, and his female protégés can be found all over central Ohio: Lisa Hinson, owner of Hinson Ltd. Public Relations; Kimber Perfect, deputy chief of staff for Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther; and Janelle Coleman, president of the L Brands Foundation, to name three. His confidence in these women inspired them to achieve great things, and their success seems like his most important legacy.