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Sara L. Sidebottom

Visitation Info: Virtual Funeral Service
Interment Info: Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Sara Sidebottom died peacefully in the early morning hours of December 16, 2020, after a long, courageous battle with the evil known as cancer. Shortly before her passing, she talked of songs she loved and shared smiles while discussing memories of happier times. Sara’s boundless positivity and animated spirit, which touched far too many lives to count, joined her until the very end. 

Born the middle child of seven, Sara was short in stature and blessed with a fiery stubbornness and strong will that matched her red hair and Irish looks. Her family position buffering three elder sisters and three younger brothers shaped her leadership qualities from an early age. When she was only 10, her father died suddenly of a heart attack, devastating Sara and her siblings. In the difficult years that followed, Sara watched her single mother raise a large family on grit and guile, at a time when women simply didn’t do things like that. Those early years stayed with Sara, as she later became a pioneer for working women, especially in the legal profession.

Upon graduating from Villa Madonna Academy, a school for girls in Covington, Kentucky, Sara matriculated at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she studied history and political science, two subjects of lifetime passion for her. She later moved to Cincinnati and took a job as a public school teacher, thus starting a trend of education and mentorship that would impact the lives of thousands of future students. She somehow scraped together enough cash on her public school salary to pay her way through Salmon P. Chase College of Law, where Sara was one of just a small handful of female law school students in the 1970s. 

A natural rhetorician, wordsmith, and attorney’s daughter, Sara was born with the DNA of a shrewd legal street brawler. Graduating from Chase with honors, she embarked upon a career dedicated to justice, advocacy, and public service. She served 10 years as a public defender, six years as a prosecutor, and eventually served as a district judge in Kenton County, Kentucky. Sara later became Vice President and General Counsel at Northern Kentucky University, where she doled out both sage advice and livewire wit for more than 20 years until her retirement in 2016. Sara took an instrumental leadership role in guiding the University in rapid campus expansion and conversion to a Division I school. Even after she “retired,” Sara held an “Of Counsel” role through the date of her passing at her nephew’s law firm, primarily to keep actively in touch with countless friends and colleagues in the civic and legal community.

An exceptional person like Sara Sidebottom cannot be summed up by her titles and achievements. But the list of those is prodigious. Decorated attorney, judge, professor, board member, Democratic Party Delegate. She was a member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, Kentucky Bar Association, Northern Kentucky Bar Association, Cincinnati Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the 6th Circuit. Of her legal career, a common refrain from many who knew her went something like this: I love being in the company of Sara Sidebottom, but I would never want to appear before her in a courtroom. 

This fighting spirit also made her a champion of underdog causes. Her dedication to women’s rights and professional empowerment led to some of her proudest accomplishments. She co-founded the Northern Kentucky Women’s Lawyer Association, served on the Board and as Vice-Chair on Kentucky’s Commission of Women, and was Vice Chair on the Steering Committee for the Governor’s Summit on the Economic Status of Kentucky’s Women. In 2004, the Kentucky House of Representatives officially recognized Sara as an “Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky” for all of her civic and charitable contributions to the Northern Kentucky region.

But to those who knew her personally, or who had the fortune of crossing her path, Sara was so much more than her Curriculum Vitae. She lived a life of energy and passion, love and strong opinions. It would not be uncommon to see Sara challenge a man twice her size to a fist fight, a quality her siblings can confirm was with her since childhood. But Sara was also known for her incredible kindness and selfless dedication toward children. Though she did not have kids of her own, Sara was an irreplaceable influence on and veritable legend to her 18 nieces and nephews, all of whom loved her dearly and looked up to her until her last breath.  

When Sara wasn’t working or teaching, she was traveling, learning new languages, reading page-turning mystery novels, sipping good Kentucky bourbons, and assembling an impressive fountain pen collection. She traveled through Europe and Latin America and, memorably, spent several weeks in China in the early 80s when it was “a nation of a billion bicycles.” From all of her trips she brought back exotic momentos that served as conversation pieces for tremendous stories that she joyfully told to friends and family. 

Sara was also an aficionado of “the ponies” and great lover of the Kentucky Derby. Always willing to get behind a good long shot, she somehow spent a lifetime cheering for the hapless Cincinnati Reds and Bengals. But in sports as in life, Sara saw more than wins and losses. With a studious eye, she was always interested in both the technical elements of the games and the human stories behind the players. There was no one better to watch a ballgame with.

Perhaps Sara’s enduring quality was a limitless well of optimism, as her smile in those darkest final moments attests. She loved jokes, riddles, and puns, and laughed infectiously with anyone willing to verbally joust with her. She lived the life of a storyteller, mentor, short-fused firecracker, ground breaker, and selfless guardian angel. Sara inspired all who knew her.

 Once news of her passing broke, an outpouring of love and support began to overwhelm her family members and friends, flooding across phone calls, texts, emails, social media, and good old fashioned handwritten letters. Her reputation was widespread and formidable, both personally and professionally, and many who never knew her had heard her name. It’s impossible to know the maximum number of people one individual can truly reach in a lifetime, but like everything else she did, Sara gave it a good run for the money. 

She was preceded in death by her father William, mother Betty, and sister Patty. She is survived by her sisters Susy and Martha, and brothers Billy, Danny, and Mark. She remains beloved among dozens of other living relatives across the country. As a former school teacher, Sara adored helping children. In lieu of flowers, she would have loved to see a donation to one of her favorite organizations to support, Neediest Kids of All

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a virtual memorial service will be held Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at Please visit for submitting online condolences to be read during the service.

11:00 am - 12:00 am

Virtual Funeral Service
Erlanger, KY
12:00 am

Sara L. Sidebottom


Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Address: 3227 Dixie Hwy ERLANGER, KY 41018
12:00 am - 12:00 am

Sara L. Sidebottom


Gone But Never Forgotten

Aunt Sase as she was affectionately known to her nieces and nephews was one of a kind.

I have vivid and extremely fond memories of her growing up in Park Hills Kentucky. She would always make herself available to any of her nieces or nephews if ever there was a need.

I remember my HS years in the late 80’s where she helped transport me around Northern Kentucky when I was staying at my Grandmother’s (Betty Sidebottom) for High School Basketball camps.

Then there were the times when she and I would discuss the world as it was, ‘conspiracies and all’ and somehow weave them into a practical discussion of her view of things.

I love you Aunt Sara and know your spirit will forever live on in the thousands of people you inspired to do and be more.

For Sara Lee Sidebottom

I first met Sara Lee Sidebottom in late 1967 when I started dating (and the following year married) her sister, Martha. WOW. What a force, personality, and gifted wit Sara possessed. And what a formidable presence she was, clearly the self appointed one in charge in the family.
Opinionated, yet always fair, Sara remained a friend and confidant for 53 years. And for those of you who knew Sara, let’s just say there were many interesting and intriguing debates along the way, as there were few subjects where she lacked an expert viewpoint .

Sara also had this uncanny ability to shut down her many professional and high pressure work related responsibilities to do the things she loved and enjoyed. Her passions were myriad and she pursued them as hard as she did her legal career. From sports to politics to the whole cultural zeitgeist terrain, she had it covered.

Martha and I had nine children along the way and now are expecting our 18th grandchild. One of Sara’s passions was following our children and their children. She took great pride in their lives, collected pictures, told stories (often in her special Donald Duck voice), visited often here in Atlanta, and in general was a great example and role model for each of them, especially the girls. And they in turn were very devoted to her. Though dispersed around the country, they never failed to many times make the trek back to Northern Kentucky to visit with her, to get her updated, to bring their children and to laugh and recount their lives. Her wise counsel and advice were sought after and accepted. My children and grandchildren are much the better for having had Sara so much in their lives. They were in good hands with her. And for that, Martha and I are eternally grateful.

Sara’s life, given her circumstances, was not an easy one. But if anyone ever showed tremendous grace under pressure, it was she. She lived a life in full with a keen sense of humor, and she remained as sharp and as insightful as ever right up to the end. A natural born leader, Sara was generous and fair-minded with all, and stands as a wonderful example of what one can achieve in this world with the right mix of talent, intellect, education, compassion, a sense of justice, and drive. She was a fighter, and she made other people better by her association with them. Those are the qualities she passed on to those who both knew her, loved her, and worked with her in many ways. She will be deeply missed.

So Godspeed, sweet Sara, as you smilingly look down upon us and protect us, giving each of us that extra little push in the proper direction, urging us to do the right thing, until we all meet together again, feeling your love, arms entwined, hearts connected with you. We promise until then to honor your wishes and your presence and to follow your example in making this world a better place for all of us. And we all will carry a special little piece of your heart within us till then. Goodbye Sara and may you Rest In Peace. We love you.

Love, Jay Campbell

Sorry for your loss

But we hope you can remember her this way.
“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
– Nancy, Elaine, Carolyn, Greg, Margie and Dong

Rest In Peace Dear Sara

In the 1980s, we moved to Ft. Mitchell on Highland Ave. two doors down from Sara. She made an effort to greet “the new neighbors” and it didn’t take long to become great friends. Together, we had great dinners, played board games, travelled all around the midwest and talked, talked talked. She would entertain us with wonderful stories of her adventures while we made our own with her. In short, we had thirty plus years of friendship that will last in our minds forever. Her spirit will be with us every day.

In my heart forever

My heart goes out to all of Sara’s sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews in the loss of Sara. I share in your grief and will miss her terribly. Sara and I have been true friends and good buddies since we were 14 years old, and I am so grateful for the many, many memories of our lifelong friendship. Whether it was when she was “trying” to beat me at golf, or taking in a Reds game together, or on one of our many “gambling junkets”, we always had a great time and laughed harder together than I ever remember laughing.
It can truly be said of Sara that if you were lucky enough to have had Sara as a friend, you were lucky enough.
Goodbye, dear friend.
Emilie Kerlin

A great boss, mentor, and friend

Sara was a great boss, mentor, and friend. She loved her family and was so proud of her nieces and nephews. During lunch many days she’d fill us in on their lives and accomplishments and show us pictures. I’ve never met them but feel like I have! I learned so much working for Sara, she placed ethics and integrity above all and treated everyone with respect. Her door was open to Vice Presidents and front-line staff alike. She loved my kids and allowed me balance as a working mom. I owe my legal career to her mentorship. She is so very missed. -Sara Kelley

Loving message to SARA’S FAMILY

What a joy to call myself a friend of the Sidebottom family! Sara was the kid sister – the fiesty one. I canvassed neighborhoods for her run for judgeship and mailed flyers at the dining room table. Sara was a contributing and fun member of a book club and a gentle soul. My sadness for all family members, especially Martha, my childhood friend. Many prayers and love to all of you. Pat Borne

Part of our family

Sara became part of our family in 1990. Prior to that year she had been one of my teachers and a customer of mine, when I was a banker. 1990 was when we had the opportunity to adopt our son. Sara readily agreed to represent us and plowed thru any road blocks that came along. She told me that her two best days as an attorney were the day that she delivered our son from the hospital and the day that his adoption became final. After the adoption was final she disappeared with our son and showed him off to all of her friends at the the courthouse. And she had a whole bunch of friends.
We stayed in touch thru the years including my annual call on December 20, the anniversary of the adoption becoming final. I used to have a friendly argument with her secretary at NKU over who was the President of the Sara Sidebottom Fan Club.
Sadly, I learned of Sara’s passing on December 20. She was a very special person and will be missed.

So Sorry for your loss

Danny, You are in our prayers during this difficult time. Please take care of yourself and I hope you are at peace knowing Sara is with your Mom, the angel watching over all of us. Dan & Maureen

So sorry for your loss…

We met Sara, through a mutual friends of both of ours. Whomever wrote this wonderful obituary, did a fabulous job of capturing her many lovely traits, quirks and characteristics. She was always delightful to be around when she took time to relax. I’ll miss her many humorous stories…I’m sure she will continue to amuse and challenge those with her in heaven.
God’s Blessings be With All of You… Deby and Mike Sage

Leon Boothe

It is with great sadness that I learned of Sarah‘s passing. We had many experiences over the years both personally and professionally. A moment we both remembered was having been selected by Professor Rose Stauss for the two of us to speak at Rose’s funeral. It was a an emotional experience that binded the two of us. Northern Kentucky University was very fortunate to have had her as our legal counsel for many years. She admirably served the university well. One of her great strengths was having so much support in the community. She had a full and vital life. My prayer is to rest in peace knowing that you had a life well lived. Leon Boothe N.K.U.

Legal and Loving Legacy

Sara was one of those unique individuals who was smart, strong and a heart of kindness. I worked with Sara, as her outside counsel, for all the years she was at NKU. Sara, her Legal Assistant Cathy Dewberry and Assistant Legal Counsel Sara Kelley were a wonderful team lead by Sara. She was always inclusive, open and straight to the point. Her focus was to do the right thing under all circumstances. For many years Sara was a regular at the Dinsmore box for Red’s games and she most recently attend last fall. She was everyone’s friend at the games and the most knowledgeable. We were all blessed in life to know Sara and even more blessed to have her as a friend. God Bless her and her family. She lived a life worth living and made the most of it, especially with her big heart towards family and friends. We will all miss her. Michael W Hawkins

Prayers for the family

I met Sara when I was Justice of the Peace in 1986. She has bubbly personality and down to earth.

What a gal

I had the fortune to be her first legal secretary. I fell in love with her when she and Burr Travis would sing Christmas carols together. I loved her like so many others have. I will miss her infectious laughter and treasured friendship. Peace, love and heartfelt thanks to all she left behind. What a gal.


Shane, Cory,

I did not know your aunt personally, but knowing the two of you, I’m sure she had an influence on what good men you are. Her reputation tells me all I need to know about her as a good lawyer and a wonderful person. My condolences to you both and to the family on this loss.

Ed Burcham

Justice Michelle Keller

Sara was a friend and mentor. I learned so much from her about the law, and most importantly, about life. She genuinely cared about others and her community. As a defense attorney, prosecutor, and a judge, her first priority was “doing justice”. She knew no strangers, and her storytelling and gregarious personality were true to her Irish roots. She will be missed by so many, and my condolences and prayers for comfort go out to her family and friends. Rest in peace, my friend.