Patti Newberry: The Professor

Patti Newberry

Patti Newberry, Miami University Professor

If you ask Patti Newberry what her hair looked like in the 90’s, she’ll proudly say, “It was big then as it is today–never change a good thing.”

With that same attitude, Newberry has chosen to purchase Fords throughout her life (four of the seven cars she has owned have been Fords), crediting a Republican father and All-American upbringing for teaching her the value of a reliable car. From her first car at the independence-seeking age of 16, to her present situation as a 48-year-old wife and mother of three in Cincinnati, Newberry has truly led a “ford life.”

Her current Ford, a 2005 taupe-colored Focus, sits in the shadow of her pale blue, eclectic house in Kennedy Heights. This Miami University lecturer commutes 280 miles each week, and her car is a testament to her motto—“You just can’t kill a Ford. They just keep hanging on.”

Her Ford Focus, small and efficient, has served as her dining room table many times on that 70 mile per day commute.  But despite a few crumbs and bumps, after five years it has never needed service, Newberry says. So it’s time to pass it down to her 16-year-old daughter, Frances, a sophomore at Walnut Hills High School.  Frances will follow in her mother’s footsteps, stepping into a used Ford as her first car. She says her daughter is not exactly “wildly enthusiastic” about inheriting her trusty Focus wagon, and would rather go vintage.

Frances pictures, according to Patti, a small, edgy beater, an old model, or the Ford Falcon, or something two-toned—“like somebody started painting and abandoned it.” But Newberry is giving Frances reliability over style, and says, “If she wants to put plastic flowers or peace symbols all over it, or to express herself through a Focus wagon, go for it girlfriend.”

A Rough and Tumble Start: the Falcon

Newberry remembers her first Ford a little more fondly. She grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she spent her time babysitting as an anxious sixteen year old craving independence and the start of her grown-up existence. After saving a substantial nest egg from her job, her father helped her decide on her first car—a $500 1967 Ford Falcon, with a Forest Green exterior and white vinyl interior. Where did the sixteen-year-old get $500 in the summer of 1977?

“I always had a chunk of money when I was young,” Newberry jokes. “I was fluid!”

And the car was really her.

I “liked it because it was rough and tumble, and that was my reputation,” Newberry says. “I was always kind of my own person, doing my own things, as I am now.  I don’t play into what the crowd thinks. I like that the car reflected that.”

Newberry credits her father with teaching his daughters how to take care of themselves, starting on the negative 10-degree Nebraska mornings when the Falcon wouldn’t start.  He had taught her how to pull out the jumper cables and solve the problem herself, and she did, beginning a long life of walking strongly down her own chosen, independent path.

Movin’ on up: the Taurus

A far cry from her sixteen-year-old self, the newly engaged Newberry bought her next Ford in 1990. Living in Oakley with her then-fiancé Doug, she remembers the light blue Taurus as her first real adult decision.

“It was bigger, and brand name with a little more panache,” she says.

Now that she had a new job at the Cincinnati Enquirer, she felt more professional driving to interviews in the light blue Taurus rather than her old “college car”—a Pontiac Sunbird.

“It had been a hard ride in the Sunbird, but the Taurus was a smoother ride–more luxurious, plusher seats, with add-ons inside,” she says.  And by add-ons Newberry means a tape player that she says felt very “grown-up.”

Her career as a journalist was taking off, and the car even accompanied her to a six-month stint working at USA today.

“It was like getting your first dress coat or your first suit,” she says. “I do remember looking at it and thinking how much nicer it was than Doug’s big boat of a yellow convertible.”

Resisting “Van-dom”: the Explorer

In the summer of 1993, SUV’s where “all the rage,” Newberry remembers. Five months pregnant with Frances, but still a self-proclaimed “DINK” for just a few more months (dual income no kids), the Newberry family was not yet ready for Van-dom.

“Everyone cool was driving an SUV,” she jokes.

Of all the SUV’s on the market, their decision came easily as her family had always been Ford fans. Newberry’s father had always pushed to buy only American cars, and the tradition continued with the SUV that would take the Newberry family into parenthood.

On a hot, summer Saturday afternoon they went to buy the dark blue Explorer, but Newberry remembers having to go into work at the Enquirer to finish  a piece she was writing about Carl Lindner. “Bushed” after a long afternoon, they bought the Explorer that evening and took their maiden voyage ride to Norwood for a pizza night out.

She felt like “queen of the road” with her newly acquired height when she switched from a car to a SUV. The Explorer was one of her favorite cars because it was powerful and fast, and as all the other Fords she owned, she particularly could appreciate the pick up and acceleration, as well as the easy turning radius of Fords.

“We rode that car hard,” she says. “Car seats, three kids, all-American family, groceries, eating in there, and crushed cheerios.”

The couple also bought and installed a rear-facing seat to accommodate their three kids and their friends.

The Explorer took family trips to Arkansas, Chicago, Maine, Wisconsin as well as the daily grind, and Newberry says it needed no major repairs for the seven years they owned it. “It got decent mileage, never had an engine block replaced, a blown gasket. We are consistent but not meticulous on oil changes and we keep the tires in good shape,” she says. Newberry had succeeded in escaping her children’s youngest years without a single minivan. Things were good.

Practicality prevails: the Focus Wagon

When gas prices hit an all-time high around 2005, Newberry was ready for a more efficient car for her daily 70-mile commute to Oxford. For about $14,000, she drove the car off a lot just in time to start her new school year in a budget-friendly vehicle.

Newberry couldn’t hide her disappointment at losing the coolness factor she found in the Explorer. She calls it the “anonymous factor.”

In an SUV, she explains, “dudes will give you a glance at least.” But in the new car with her mom sunglasses, nobody pays attention to you, she complains.

Then she admits that putting reality before style gave her “reliable, comfortable, fuel-efficient transportation.” Like her other Fords, it hasn’t needed service aside from oil changes and tire changes.

The Ford Focus has been truly lived in. Newberry’s trademark non-negotiable in buying the car is the interior design. The taupe-colored lighter seats in the Ford Focus were a selling point for her, as well as the keyless entry that always allowed her kids to jump in if they were five feet ahead of her going out the door. The car has been well broken in on the outside as well. “Both runners are bashed from hitting curbs,” she says. “But I don’t really care.”

Back in the Market

Newberry is ready to head back to her days of style, and is in the market for a new car.  After taking a look at the Ford Fusion, she could see herself driving it, mom sunglasses and all.

“I would feel sexy again with electronics and the leather interior. I’ve never had seat warmers, that would be a treat,” she says, planning to test-drive a Fusion hybrid soon.

Newberry says it’s been hard not to pay attention to the Fusion’s ad campaign in her family of American Idol fans.  The ads with Kris Allen (last year’s winner) make the Ford “sexier than ever, giving it name appeal,” she says, especially with media and phone sync features.

With her daughter in the Ford Focus, Newberry and her famous sunglasses might just be cruising around in a new Ford (with leather interior) sometime in the next few weeks. Watching out for curbs, of course.

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Read more articles on our Lebanon Ford blog.