W. Roger Fry, Lawyer Who Loved Nature And Carvings, Dead At 77


W. Roger Fry liked to recall events in Music Hall when the old Hook & Hastings pipe organ was still in use.

The conversation would often turn to his great-great-grandfather, Henry L. Fry and his son William H., who designed and carved, with help from their wood-carving students, the great screen that surrounded the organ.

“The native black walnut, darkened with lamp black and oiled with linseed oil, was carved with life-like birds, flowers and acanthus leaves that can be seen on so much of their work. William’s daughter, Laura A. Fry, also an accomplished carver, worked on the screen, as well,” Mr. Fry told The Enquirer last May, as the hall closed for renovation.

Mr. Fry did much to preserve a legacy that belongs as much to Cincinnati as to his own family. His and his wife Pat’s collection of Fry-carved furniture is the largest private collection of such furniture in existence, rivaled only by that at Cincinnati Art Museum.

Mr. Fry died on May 2 at his Indian Hill home after a battle with ocular melanoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that his family says he fought until the end. He was 77.

For more than 50 years, Mr. Fry practiced law at Rendigs, Fry, Kiely & Dennis, a firm co-founded by his father, William Fry. He started as a law clerk while taking night classes at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, from which he graduated first in his class.  He was revered by his colleagues, said John Cobey, who recently told his friend that he had “not only built an institution based on professionalism, but you also built friends who respect and cherish you.”

Outside of the office, Mr. Fry and his wife were passionate and devoted ambassadors for Cincinnati’s rich artistic past, said Amy Dehan, curator of decorative arts and design at Cincinnati Art Museum.

“He knew and appreciated the importance of Cincinnati as an art center long before many did,” Dehan said. “Over the years, he and Pat generously funded Cincinnati-related research initiatives and art acquisitions at the museum. With some frequency, they graciously agreed to host collectors, scholars and other museum constituents for visits to their home to view their extensive collections of Cincinnati art-carved furniture, Cincinnati paintings and Native American art.”

Mr. Fry spent decades finding, collecting and preserving the unique furniture carved by his forbearers, resulting in the finest and largest private collection of its kind. He shared both his research and his artworks, and happily lent them to institutions for exhibition, Dehan said.

His passion for collecting art took him to far-flung corners of the globe, where he befriended everyone from cowboy artists to Alaskan Eskimos. For a special exhibition at Cincinnati Art Museum in 2007-08 entitled, “The Lure of the Arctic: Eskimo and Inuit Artifacts,” the couple provided more than 200 artifacts from their collection, including an authentic kayak and an Eskimo umiak (open boat).

Mr. Fry’s love of nature took him on numerous scientific expeditions with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. As a result of his participation in collecting data about threatened penguin species on Isla Noir (Black Island) off the coast of Chile, the Chilean government recently agreed to protect those environments needed for the penguins to survive.

“Clearly he was one of the kindest, most generous and lovely guys I ever knew,” said Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard. “For the past three decades, he had been directly involved in expeditions for the Zoo from Alaska all the way down to the coast of South America. He worked with our animal staff to research, conserve and even collect endangered birds.”

Wildlife artist John Ruthven accompanied his friend of 50 years on many expeditions and recalled their search for the rare ivory-billed woodpecker.

“Here is one of Cincinnati’s finest attorneys down in the cypress swamps of southern Alabama along the Choctawhatchee River searching for this rare bird. Not only was Roger great at his profession, but he was a wonderful naturalist,” Ruthven said. “We didn’t find the bird but we added a lot to its history.”

A longtime council member for the Village of Indian Hill, Mr. Fry and fellow council members rescued a Camp Dennison gravel mine from development, turning it instead into a multi-lake park known as Grand Valley. An ardent supporter of maintaining Indian Hill’s rural character, he also helped to establish Rheinstrom Park.

Family members remarked that in everything he did, Mr. Fry took the time to learn and master, and he did it all with a wonderful sense of humor.

“He was such an inspiration, and he was always there. I feel like he was one of my best friends,” said his son, William.

In addition to his wife of 53 years, Patricia K. Fry, Mr. Fry is survived by three sons, Ted, of Milford; Addison, of Madeira; and William, of Terrace Park; two sisters, Linda Mallett of North Carolina and Allison Montgomery of Charlottesville, Virginia; and six grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati OH 45220; Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202; Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati OH 45203, Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St., Cincinnati, OH 45202 or Stepping Stones Learning Center.

Visitation and memorial service, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Remembrance 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.), Wednesday, May 10, Thomas-Justin Memorial Funeral Home, 7500 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45236.