ou might say Sue Ling Gin, 54, has two faces, maybe more.
One is the stern, square, makeupless face she presents today to the local Chicago business and political
establishment. Another is the far more inviting face recalled by the men
who ordered food and drinks from a petite Chinese woman in satin bunny
ears and spike heels at the Chicago Playboy Club.
Yet another face might be that of the determined Aurora teen who sometimes waitressed at two restaurants
at a time to help support her widowed mother and retarded older sister.
It's anyone's guess exactly when the Playboy bunny gave way to the hardnosed, quick-tempered Chicago
businesswoman. It may have been during her post-bunny years while struggling
to get started in the real estate and restaurant businesses. It may have
been during her long courtship and marriage to late MCI chairman Bill
McGowan, the mighty yokel who dared take on AT&T and bust it up into seven
Baby Bells. It may have been during Gin's own 10-year struggle to build
Flying Food Fare, her solely-owned $20 million catering company, then
to rebuild it from insolvency in 1991. Or maybe it was the death of her
husband, compounded by the cheerless task of divvying up his estate with
his three contentious siblings. Most likely, the one-time cheerleader,
Miss Chinatown contestant and Playboy Bunny gave ground in gradual stages
to the strenuous new demands of the business world.
Sue Ling Gin's story is chock full of the ingredients that make for inspiring reading--early tragedy and hardship, youthful courage, determination and hard work, sacrifice and remarkable instincts
at key moments, a crushing business setback at an age when many are
making retirement plans, even a heartfelt mid-life romance cut short
by a heart attack. Another woman with Gin's story might be proud to
share it, perhaps even take a measure of pride in its symphonic richness.
Unfortunately, that kind of a philosophical perspective seems alien
to Gin's nature. She has diligently suppressed precisely those elements
of her life--the challenge of growing up taking care of a reclusive
widowed mother and a retarded older sister whom Gin still supports,
her youthful years of hustling for tips at the Playboy Club to save
money for entry into the real estate and restaurant businesses, her
tragic marriage to a visionary entrepreneur whose heart had gone bad
from his epic 26-year war with AT&T--that give it poignancy and even
When we contacted Gin to say that we wanted to interview her, she asked that we first send her a copy of Face. We did. After she had received and studied our package, Gin agreed to the interview.
During the initial phone interview, Gin recoiled at our questions about
her Playboy years, her early romances and her retarded older sister.
Abruptly she cut short the interview, suggesting that we resume later.
Face was well into background research and interviews with her
brother Richard, 10 years older than her, and people at Aurora's East
High where Gin graduated in 1959, when Rhonda Sibille, Gin's secretary
at New Management, Gin's real estate company, called to say that Gin had never agreed to an interview.
Gin had agreed to the interview, we replied, and in fact, had already
participated in a preliminary interview. Sibille confided that Gin had
stuck a note on her copy of Face saying that it was "too racy" for her
tastes. The decision to profile Gin had been made weeks earlier, we
told Sibille, and that while it's our editorial policy to allow the
profile subject to be the final authority on her life, we did at times
publish profiles based on research and interviews with those who had
known the subject. Sibille seemed taken aback. "Ms Gin has a nasty temper
when people go against her wishes," she confided, perhaps in a misguided
effort to discourage us from proceeding with the profile. Duly noting
this fact for use in the profile, we told Sibille that Gin's refusal