Kathy Ransier dressed her teen-age son in a tuxedo, took him to his school prom and danced with him in his wheelchair.
It's one of many joyful stories her friend, Rebecca Love, remembers about Ransier's relationship with Charles, whose birth defect left him developmentally challenged at age 1.
"She said, 'I operate with a cup half full, waiting for Charlie to go to college ... '" Love recalls. "That tells a lot about Kathy and her strength and her hopefulness."
For her part, Ransier, managing partner of Ransier & Ransier LLP, remembers the life lessons she learned from Charles, who nearly two years ago died at age 17 -- far past the six-month life expectancy doctors gave him shortly after he was born.
"Charles was Charles. Not handicapped Charles, not retarded Charles, he was just Charles," she says matter-of-factly.
"Fortunately for him, and us, in his level of understanding he was a very happy person -- he wasn't stressed out by his limits," she says, noting that he showed the family joy and warmth.
"You had a bad day and Charles was there to remind you and to love you," she says.
Love, director of early childhood education for the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, whose board Ransier chairs, says Ransier always celebrated Charles' life rather than seeing her care of him as a burden.
That attitude, Love says, contributes to the success Ransier has in the law firm owned by her and her husband, Fred.
"Her energy, her positive outlook, her open disposition -- she's a scholar, very scholarly, and intelligent and articulate. And I think all of those make people open their minds to her and receive her professionally and as a friend," says Love, who's known Ransier professionally and personally for nearly 30 years.
Ransier says relationships with clients, in fact, are among the "unanticipated real joys" of running the law firm. She wouldn't disclose specifics about the firm's financials but says she wouldn't deny that revenue exceeds $1 million.
"There are clients we have represented literally the entire time we've been in business," she says of the German Village area law firm founded in 1976. The firm has represented such notables as Honda, Wendy's, Moody/Nolan Ltd., Bank One, National City Bank and Lutheran Social Services.
Susan Weaver, executive director of the Community Housing Network Inc., says over the 10 years Ransier has served as general counsel for her organization, the two have developed a friendship.
"She's just a very upbeat and gregarious person," Weaver says. "She can be irreverent privately, which helps in really difficult matters to sort of look on the light side of things or to find the humor in the problem."
Weaver says she sees Ransier's attitude obvious in her family, which also includes sons Bradley, 23, and Ricky, 17.
While Ransier says she and her husband are focusing on a personal transition to spend more time with each other now that their sons have grown, she actually commits a large portion of her time to civic and community work.
In addition to active membership in the Columbus, Ohio State and American bar associations, she's on the boards of Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., Columbus Municipal Airport Authority, The Ohio State University Friends of the Libraries, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Broad Brunson Place Condominiums Association. She's also a panel member of The Columbus Foundation Legal Advisory Committee and the OSU Feminist Law Caucus Community Mentoring Program.
In 1990, she won the Community Service Award from the Columbus Bar Association. Lawyers, she says, should be proud of their civic involvement.
"Of course easily every third joke is a lawyer joke, but the bar association is trying to get the word out of our service to the community and also service to our peers," she says.
Building her own practice has been an educational experience, she says. For example, after 25 years in business, she's learned to look beyond the resume when she's hiring new people to the firm, which in addition to her and Fred includes two other attorneys as well as a legal assistant, bookkeeper, secretary/receptionist and law clerk.
She knows now she'll generally have more success hiring attorneys and staff who went to law school later in life or are further along in their careers, because they tend to be more mature.
"It's fun to be a lawyer -- ego-gratifying that people rely on what you have to say," she says, "so it's nice in that respect. But after a couple of years we realized -- we've got to make money.
"Fred and I are first-generation business people, which is a challenge in and of itself," she says.
Still, Ransier's biggest challenge in life came with the death of her son, a loss she deals with through support from friends and family, whom she counts among those she most admires.
"I am so fortunate that I had tremendous parents and a wonderful childhood," she says, remembering her parents' adoration of her and her five sisters.
"According to (my father) I was the center of the world. It was late -- too late -- when I figured out I wasn't," she laughs. "It was a great way to start off life, feeling that way." How to reach: Kathy Ransier, Ransier & Ransier LLP, 443-7429 or www.ransierlaw.com
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.