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Obituaries » Sara L. Sidebottom


Sara L. Sidebottom

December 16, 2020

Burial Date: December 19, 2020

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a virtual memorial service will be held Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at https://youtu.be/xXCeP6NINKc.

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Sara Sidebottom died peacefully in the early morning hours of December 16, 2020, after a long, courageous battle with the evil known as cancer. Shortly before her passing, she talked of songs she loved and shared smiles while discussing memories of happier times. Sara’s boundless positivity and animated spirit, which touched far too many lives to count, joined her until the very end.

Born the middle child of seven, Sara was short in stature and blessed with a fiery stubbornness and strong will that matched her red hair and Irish looks. Her family position buffering three elder sisters and three younger brothers shaped her leadership qualities from an early age. When she was only 10, her father died suddenly of a heart attack, devastating Sara and her siblings. In the difficult years that followed, Sara watched her single mother raise a large family on grit and guile, at a time when women simply didn’t do things like that. Those early years stayed with Sara, as she later became a pioneer for working women, especially in the legal profession.

Upon graduating from Villa Madonna Academy, a school for girls in Covington, Kentucky, Sara matriculated at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she studied history and political science, two subjects of lifetime passion for her. She later moved to Cincinnati and took a job as a public school teacher, thus starting a trend of education and mentorship that would impact the lives of thousands of future students. She somehow scraped together enough cash on her public school salary to pay her way through Salmon P. Chase College of Law, where Sara was one of just a small handful of female law school students in the 1970s.

A natural rhetorician, wordsmith, and attorney’s daughter, Sara was born with the DNA of a shrewd legal street brawler. Graduating from Chase with honors, she embarked upon a career dedicated to justice, advocacy, and public service. She served 10 years as a public defender, six years as a prosecutor, and eventually served as a district judge in Kenton County, Kentucky. Sara later became Vice President and General Counsel at Northern Kentucky University, where she doled out both sage advice and livewire wit for more than 20 years until her retirement in 2016. Sara took an instrumental leadership role in guiding the University in rapid campus expansion and conversion to a Division I school. Even after she “retired,” Sara held an “Of Counsel” role through the date of her passing at her nephew’s law firm, primarily to keep actively in touch with countless friends and colleagues in the civic and legal community.

An exceptional person like Sara Sidebottom cannot be summed up by her titles and achievements. But the list of those is prodigious. Decorated attorney, judge, professor, board member, Democratic Party Delegate. She was a member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, Kentucky Bar Association, Northern Kentucky Bar Association, Cincinnati Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the 6th Circuit. Of her legal career, a common refrain from many who knew her went something like this: I love being in the company of Sara Sidebottom, but I would never want to appear before her in a courtroom.

This fighting spirit also made her a champion of underdog causes. Her dedication to women’s rights and professional empowerment led to some of her proudest accomplishments. She co-founded the Northern Kentucky Women’s Lawyer Association, served on the Board and as Vice-Chair on Kentucky’s Commission of Women, and was Vice Chair on the Steering Committee for the Governor’s Summit on the Economic Status of Kentucky’s Women. In 2004, the Kentucky House of Representatives officially recognized Sara as an “Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky” for all of her civic and charitable contributions to the Northern Kentucky region.

But to those who knew her personally, or who had the fortune of crossing her path, Sara was so much more than her Curriculum Vitae. She lived a life of energy and passion, love and strong opinions. It would not be uncommon to see Sara challenge a man twice her size to a fist fight, a quality her siblings can confirm was with her since childhood. But Sara was also known for her incredible kindness and selfless dedication toward children. Though she did not have kids of her own, Sara was an irreplaceable influence on and veritable legend to her 18 nieces and nephews, all of whom loved her dearly and looked up to her until her last breath.

When Sara wasn’t working or teaching, she was traveling, learning new languages, reading page-turning mystery novels, sipping good Kentucky bourbons, and assembling an impressive fountain pen collection. She traveled through Europe and Latin America and, memorably, spent several weeks in China in the early 80s when it was “a nation of a billion bicycles.” From all of her trips she brought back exotic momentos that served as conversation pieces for tremendous stories that she joyfully told to friends and family.

Sara was also an aficionado of “the ponies” and great lover of the Kentucky Derby. Always willing to get behind a good long shot, she somehow spent a lifetime cheering for the hapless Cincinnati Reds and Bengals. But in sports as in life, Sara saw more than wins and losses. With a studious eye, she was always interested in both the technical elements of the games and the human stories behind the players. There was no one better to watch a ballgame with.

Perhaps Sara’s enduring quality was a limitless well of optimism, as her smile in those darkest final moments attests. She loved jokes, riddles, and puns, and laughed infectiously with anyone willing to verbally joust with her. She lived the life of a storyteller, mentor, short-fused firecracker, ground breaker, and selfless guardian angel. Sara inspired all who knew her.

Once news of her passing broke, an outpouring of love and support began to overwhelm her family members and friends, flooding across phone calls, texts, emails, social media, and good old fashioned handwritten letters. Her reputation was widespread and formidable, both personally and professionally, and many who never knew her had heard her name. It’s impossible to know the maximum number of people one individual can truly reach in a lifetime, but like everything else she did, Sara gave it a good run for the money.

She was preceded in death by her father William, mother Betty, and sister Patty. She is survived by her sisters Susy and Martha, and brothers Billy, Danny, and Mark. She remains beloved among dozens of other living relatives across the country. As a former school teacher, Sara adored helping children. In lieu of flowers, she would have loved to see a donation to one of her favorite organizations to support, Neediest Kids of All.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a virtual memorial service will be held Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at https://youtu.be/xXCeP6NINKc.