Peggy Zone Fisher equates her 46 years of being with Lee Fisher to climbing together on the ladder of life and careers.
“I pull him up a rung; he pulls me up a rung,” says Zone Fisher, president and CEO of the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, a nonprofit human relations organization with a mission to eliminate “bias, bigotry and racism in Northeast Ohio.”
The couple pretty much reached the top of those steps earlier this year when they were honored as co-recipients of the 2021 Richard W. Pogue Award for Excellence in Community and Engagement. The recognition is the highest award given by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation. Attorney Lee Fisher is the dean at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law/Cleveland State University and a former Ohio attorney general and lieutenant governor.
“Peggy and I have received some wonderful awards throughout our careers,” says Lee Fisher. “This is only the third time that we have been honored as a couple. That is far more gratifying and fulfilling than any individual award. This represents a marriage that is more than just a marriage between a husband and wife, but also a marriage between our personal and professional missions.”
Fisher and Zone Fisher came from families that exposed them early to acceptance and appreciation for cultures other than their own and to stand up for what they believed to be just and fair.
When Zone Fisher was in middle school, her father, Cleveland City Councilman Michael Zone, invited Carl Stokes — soon to be the first Black mayor of a major American city — and his family to dinner when she lived on the West Side. Michael Zone told everyone Stokes was the man Cleveland needed as mayor. Not long afterward, the exterior of the Zone’s house was covered with racist messages painted in black paint.
“My father said he knew [me and my siblings] were scared, but to hold our heads up high and that whoever did it was a coward,” recalls Zone Fisher.
The couple’s steadfast inherent crusade for social justice through politics, business and community leadership has taken many forms. Fisher authored Ohio’s Hate Crime law in 1987 and defended the constitutionality of the law before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1992. As president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children, he developed a strategic plan that benefited the nonprofit and was designed to fairly help more families.
Zone Fisher was a delegate to the inaugural White House Conference on AIDS and is a member of the Diversity Advisory Council for the MetroHealth Medical Center. She serves on the board of directors of Cleveland Clinic Hospitals-Western Region. Neither sees stepping away from their commitments in the near future.
“Retirement doesn’t even cross my mind,” says Fisher, who adds his job is to train a new generation of diverse lawyers for leadership roles. “Being dean has extended my life and given me a renewed sense of purpose. It could not have come at a better time in my life.”
“After 15 years, I am still passionate about my work at the diversity center,” says Zone Fisher. “Now, it is more important than ever.”