The familiar tones of Lisa Simeone rise in protest A Voice for Women

November 12, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Portrait of the feminist as a young woman:

Lisa Simeone was a pretty, 17-year-old when a high school classmate nominated her for Homecoming Queen. Even then, the WJHU radio personality and women's rights advocate wasn't interested in playing that part. She demanded her name be taken off the list.

"Everybody started asking, 'Why? Why? Why?' And I said, 'Just take my name off, I'm not interested in being on the list,' " Ms. Simeone, 37, explains. "It just seemed so stupid. . . . The arts didn't get the same support that football did, the guys were [jerks], I'm sure they all went on to join fraternities and participate in a few gang rapes of their own -- although I wasn't thinking that then."

Lisa Simeone has been thinking a lot about rapes lately, along with beatings, murders and other acts of violence against

women.

In the four weeks since Baltimore County Judge Robert E. Cahill sentenced a man to 18 months in jail for killing his wife hours after finding her in bed with another man, Ms. Simeone has helped organize demonstrations at both the Towson courthouse and a judicial conference on domestic violence and discussed the case on her weekly interview program with Johns Hopkins professor Mark Crispin Miller.

She was even more outraged 18 months ago when Baltimore County Judge Thomas J. Bollinger granted probation before judgment to a man found guilty of raping an unconscious 18-year-old. That case prompted Ms. Simeone to found a Baltimore chapter of the Women's Action Coalition.

Together, the Bollinger and Cahill cases have cemented her reputation as one of Baltimore's most vocal and most visible feminists.

"She is very willing to jump into things, someone who is not afraid to say what she feels," says Bonnie Ariano, director of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center of Baltimore County.

Adds Paula Keefer, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the National Organization for Women, "It certainly doesn't hurt to have people such as Lisa who are visible and who are out front when it comes to women's issues. She certainly has a lot of

energy, and that in itself pulls people toward her and gives other people energy."

On the air, Lisa Simeone hardly comes across as some raving ideologue. Her dulcet tones, which have wafted over Baltimore's airwaves for more than a decade, have won her quite a following -- including some people who disagree strongly with her views, but appreciate her voice and her taste in music.

"She is someone blessed with a tremendous warm voice and manner and a good knowledge of classical music," says conservative talk-radio host Ron Smith of WBAL, praising her for restricting her views to her interview program. "She doesn't directly espouse her views on the air that I've ever heard. You only hear about them when you read about them."

"I like her. I think she's really fun," says Les Kinsolving of WCBM radio, whose conservative credentials would seem to put him at odds with someone like Ms. Simeone. "She's very attractive and fiery and fun. She's a very colorful person and I enjoy her."

Ms. Simeone smiles easily and laughs with gusto -- a hearty chortle that can disarm even her most worthy adversaries. She looks people straight in the eye when she talks with them and does her best to answer any question. Only two areas are declared out-of-bounds: her personal life (she's divorced) and her reasons for not pursuing an early desire to write ("I was going to be a writer, that was the most important thing in my life. I'm not going to get into all the reasons why I'm not now.")

A native of Pittsburgh, Ms. Simeone grew up in an Italian-American family where her two brothers were granted freedoms that she was not.

An Italian family, she says, is "not the most equitable place for the sexes."

Her older brother, Robert, remembers his parents keeping close tabs on what Lisa was doing. And she didn't like it one bit.

"There's a certain rebelliousness that's always been there," says Mr. Simeone, a market researcher for a Pittsburgh chemical company. "My brother and I were pretty much middle of the road, obedient. Lisa wasn't. She argued a lot. She was a more troublesome kid."

She was still a teen-ager when she asked her mother, Livia Simeone, to take her to a NOW meeting. Mrs. Simeone drove her, but recalls being uncomfortable that first time.

"I did not discourage her, because I believed in some of the things they were for," says Mrs. Simeone, who is far more at ease with her daughter's feminist views now. "But I would sit in the back, because I was embarrassed."

Classics and classical

Lisa Simeone moved to Maryland in 1975 to attend St. John's College in Annapolis, where she was first exposed to classical music.

Largely ignorant of the genre at first, she dived in with the sort of gusto that admirers say marks her approach to any subject. She immersed herself in classical music, never hesitating to ask questions or being afraid to look a little silly.

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