Cynthia Engle Hardie, modest but not self deprecating, might have devoted a wall to vanity in her spacious condo on Chicago's Gold Coast. Photos of famous people shaking her hand. Awards for her impressive work in the field of public relations. Thank-you notes for her philanthropy. A Cubs banner, signaling faith in a team that regularly broke her heart. Exotica from her world travels. But instead of framed kudos, when she died December 7, 2018, she left an imposing array of better things.
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When she retired in 2010 as general manager of the Chicago office of global communications behemoth FleishmanHillard, Hardie's colleagues rented Wrigley Field, naming her an honorary usher while wisely retaining her in their own lineup as a consultant. One of her most excruciating career moments was on the morning of 9/11, standing beside United Airlines executives as they reached out to grieving families of passengers on the company's two downed flights. Although her specialty was crisis communications, most professional drama was in her behind-the-scenes leadership, building a client base and nurturing talent. She had a national reputation and was summoned to put out figurative fires all over the country, always returning to her literal Midwestern base.
A childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee, left her with an unruly twang (a mangled "e" which showed up in times of stress), and her middle class upbringing left her with egalitarian views, which were always in evidence. After graduation from Indiana University, her career began in journalism at newspapers in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Chicago. After the death of her husband, Robert Coates Hardie, and realizing she was sole breadwinner for two young children, she spun her part time work as a writer into a full time gig at the largest advertising and public relations agency in Cincinnati. She soon took charge of its public relations division, and then moved on to FleishmanHillard in 1998.
During her off-hours, she helped launch Fernside, one of the nation's first centers for grieving children, and supported it for years with her brains and money. She shored up a floundering equine riding program for kids with special needs near her second home at a lake in Ohio – again with money and with wise counsel. She chaired the communications committee of the highly regarded Chicago Network, a philanthropic organization of influential professional women. Life outside the office also included transporting patients to their chemo, casserole patrols for the sick and grieving, and arm twisting for good causes.
During her own gallant, almost six-year battle with cancer, she brought attention and funding to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, an agency with precious little of either. She was a test patient for new drug protocols, aware they would not save her life but enduring terrible suffering which might help find a cure for somebody else. Even while desperately ill, she maintained intellectual curiosity and an impressive familiarity with the aisles of Costco and most of Chicago's theater venues. She had a wicked sense of humor, cooking for and entertaining wildly dissimilar people, although she had little patience for the passive or unimaginative.
She is survived by her brother and sister-and-law, Ward and Susan Engle of Nashville, Tennessee; her sister and brother-in-law, Norma and Phil Hyatt; her half-brother and half-sister-in-law Doug and Nancy Engle; her half-sister and half-brother-in-law Joanna and Grant Wilkins, and her step-mother Jo Engle, all of Knoxville, Tennessee.
She also reluctantly leaves a son and daughter-in-law, Chris Hardie and Kelly Burk, of Richmond, Indiana; a daughter and son-in-law, Erin and Eric Martineau, of San Diego, California, and three granddaughters. They are responsible for the single congratulatory memento in her home, a framed print in her kitchen: 70 Things We Love About You. "You loved me from the beginning," her step-granddaughter wrote. "She always puts lipstick on for life's biggest fights," her daughter said. Her children and in-laws celebrated her progressive worldview, her unwavering and unselfish support, her wit, her kindness, her intelligence and her flair in the kitchen. She was a fiercely protective boss, an inspirational colleague, a relentlessly generous and beloved friend, and the most devoted and dedicated mother. She could elevate a flower arrangement with a Gerbera daisy and a wisp of greenery. She knew just when a PowerPoint presentation needed a comma and when a casserole could use a sprig of cilantro, when to micro manage and when to slip into the background.
Cynthia Hardie relinquished life after a pitched battle with cancer, leaving behind a wide swath of goodness and hardly any vanity.
A celebration of Cynthia's life will be held Thurs., December 13th at 4PM Central time in Fourth Presbyterian Church, Buchanan Chapel, 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago. In lieu of flowers please donate to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, www.bcan.org.
Please visit CYNTHIA ENGLE HARDIE BOOK OF MEMORIES. To express your thoughts or memories in the online guest book, visit www.chapelc.com or www.facebook.com/centralchapel. Arrangements by CENTRAL CHAPEL, Robert J. Moynihan & Co., Downtown Chicago. Info., 773-581-9000 or 312-944-6060.