By Gabriella Valentino
Gazette Chicago honors and remembers a longtime staff member who passed away on Feb. 5, Dolly Duplantier. Dolly was with Gazette Chicago for 26 years as a respected writer and reporter.
I had known Dolly since I was in kindergarten because her son, Austin, was in my class at Francis Xavier Warde school. Being from New Orleans, Dolly was energized by talking about her place of birth. Every year on Mardi Gras Day, she came to our grade school class to share a king cake and teach us about Mardi Gras traditions. I recall making my first Mardi Gras mask in kindergarten because Dolly brought in supplies for arts and crafts time. She was the first person to teach me about the mysterious and magical city that is New Orleans. She was the Queen of New Orleans, as far as six-year-old me was concerned.
I moved to New Orleans in 2018, after I finished my graduate program at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago. Dolly had an impact on my decision to move to the Big Easy as I had always listened to stories about her childhood in New Orleans. She told me about the satsuma tree that grew in her family’s yard and the treat of Hansen’s artisanal snowball (shaved ice) flavors on summer days when the temperature was above 100 degrees. She still had a hint of her New Orleans accent, even after living outside of the South for three decades.
When I moved to New Orleans four-and-a-half years ago, she was so supportive and excited for me, even though I did not know a single person in the city. She and I stayed connected after I moved, and it was helpful to have a lifeline back in Chicago who loved New Orleans just as much as I do.
There is a popular saying turned bumper sticker in New Orleans that says, “Be a New Orleanian, wherever you are,” and I truly believe she was the embodiment of what this phrase means. Generally, it encourages those who have experienced the city of New Orleans to share a love for community, to gather if only to eat good food and listen to live music, to be a part of something bigger with a sense of gratitude and care for the people around you. She was so positive and life affirming in both her sick and healthy days.
She loved to tell me stories about her youth in New Orleans. Here is one, in her own words, that she shared with me over email one day that is very special to me.
As a writer and someone who keeps a diary of my days and feelings, those personal stories of Dolly’s inspired me to keep a record of my own life.
Dolly attended St. Matthew the Apostle, in River Ridge, LA, and Ursuline Academy in New Orleans for high school. In her adulthood, Dolly contributed to the Ursu.Lines Magazine as an alumna. She continued on after high school to study at Tulane University, where she was a part of the Phi Mu sisterhood. She met her husband, Matt, on a study abroad trip in Paris.
“When I was about your age (and the drinking age was 18!), my friend and I were going to one of our favorite bars and there was a young kitty outside the bar. We brought it inside and she decided she was going to keep it. Her very old cat had recently passed away. Then we figured we had to give it an appropriate name. The bar’s name was Tin Lizzie’s, but that wasn’t working. We thought about Gin or Tonic (one of our drinks) and then finally came up with Dixie as Dixie beer was the very popular local beer at the time. I had an apartment so we snuck the cat in there (my landlord lived above us), until my friend (her nickname was Chickie) could convince her mom to let her keep the kitty. Dixie led a very long and pampered life!”
Dolly was a writer and worked for various publications such as Inside New Orleans Magazine, NobleHour, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Gazette Chicago.
“Dolly described what she did for Gazette Chicago as ‘cover local political and current events,’ and as usual, she was spot on,” said William S. Bike, associate editor. “The political stories in which the reporter must track down the candidates are tough, and Dolly was one of our best. With her hard news background and training, she was also superb at making complex issues understandable for the reader.
“One example is her writing about the question of a new South Loop single resident occupancy [SRO] hotel—controversial because the South Loop was gentrifying. Dolly also covered high profile stories such as the overall development plan proposed by the City for the South Loop and a new elementary school in the Near South area,” Bike added. “Because she lived in the South Loop, she was particularly good at stories focused on her home community.
“But she was good at covering the Near West Side, too, doing great articles about the CTA Douglas el line being in jeopardy, in which she had to talk to local and State officials and explain State funding for it; and the City limiting access to Bishop Street because of the Joe DiMaggio statue.
“Perhaps the biggest story she covered was when City of Chicago inspectors struck fear into Near West Siders by doing surprise building inspections, acting both aggressively and cruelly,” Bike recalled. “Her coverage really showed the plight and desperation of the average resident when the City decides to flex its muscle against the little guy just trying to live his or her life. Her work embarrassed the City into backing off.
“She simply was one of the best reporters in Gazette Chicago’s 40-year history,” Bike concluded.
Dolly is survived by her husband and soulmate, Matt; their three children, Austin, Jeremy, and Grace; her daughter-in-law, Katie; and grandbaby, Addison.
Dolly passed on the same weekend that the parading krewe (group of Mardi Gras participants) I am in was featured in a parade called Boheme, which rolled in the French Quarter. This felt especially significant because being in a krewe is a focal point of the value of community in New Orleans. Each Mardi Gras morning, St. Anne’s parade honors the souls who transitioned throughout the year. I am going to release a small raft made of basket weave and palm leaves to the Mississippi River at the conclusion of the St. Anne’s parade. I miss her so much already. I imagine I will think of her when the fragrant jasmine blooms in the spring in New Orleans.