Sue Ling Gin, widow of MCI founder Bill McGowan, traded in the tragedies and hardship of her girlhood for a one-way ticket on the American Dream Express.
by H Y Nahm



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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 tragic stature.


     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 PAGE 2

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"Ms Gin has a nasty temper when people go against her wishes."

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