Monday, September 12, 2016

Remembering Professor Paul Green

Paul Green, left, at the City Club, 2012

     People die. But the spirits that occupied those perishable bodies live on, in the memories their friends, loved ones and associates who remember them.
     I remember Prof. Paul Green, who died Saturday at 73. The dean sine pari of political scholarship in Chicago for years, teacher, writer, oft-quoted source, public speaker, serving a key role at City Club luncheons, where he was chairman, handling the delicate task of deftly stage-managing the programs and politicians, collecting questions and delivering them, while puckishly deflating folly, correcting error, and adding a running commentary of his own that was frequently more valuable than what was being said by the speaker, at least when that speaker was me.
    People also live on in their acts of kindness. Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics and Arthur Rubloff professor of Policy Studies at Roosevelt University, was the fire axe behind glass for working journalists — or again, at least for me, I can't speak for the others, but I assume I was not alone. Paul knew the answers, and he would guide you through understanding what he already knew. He was patient. He was available. He was modest— sometimes he received credit. Sometimes his insight was passed along as a particularly astute observation of my own. 
     And for those of us lucky enough to write books, we also can live on in our words committed to print. Sunday I took down my well-thumbed copy of The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, edited by Paul Green and Melvin G. Holli, and Green's insight lived again. 
    I re-read his biography of Anton Cermak, who walked Chicago's streets once more under Green's concise description, his "large and heavy-set physique coupled with his capacity for anger," a poor public speaker almost taking pride in his coarseness. 
   "Yet this man who trusted few people, who was not a good mixer or back-slapper, and who generated loyalty through ethnic attachments and shred political deals emerged as boss of Chicago," Green writes. "Why? The simple truth is that Anton J. Cermak was a political survivor who eventually outlasted his old opponents and outsmarted his new ones."  
     That last line might serve for Green. Though he had no opponents, he had smarts in abundance and outlasted half a dozen mayors he wrote about.
    In the conclusion of the book, Green offers an observation that our current mayor would have been well-served to bear in mind.
     "No mayor has been able to bring true reform to the city," he writes. "At the same time, no word in Chicago history has had more meanings, more champions, and more causes, than reform. From Medill to Washington, no mayor has run for office without espousing major reforms to improve city life. However once in office, Chicago's chief executives have found that most of their constituents were not 'ready' to replace power politics with reform politics." 
    So it didn't start with Rahm Emanuel promising to fix the system and ending up being fixed by it. 
    But not to let the politics he loved overshadow the man loved by so many. To return to his essay on the only foreign born mayor Chicago has ever had:
    "Cermak was a winner," Green concludes. "He demonstrated that if you were smart enough, tough enough and lucky enough, you could have it all in Chicago politics." 
     I did not know Paul Green well enough to know whether he indeed "had it all." But he had a lot, and was certainly a winner who had something that few politicians ever possess: the affection and respect of his contemporaries.     
    "Paul was loyal and grateful," Jay Doherty, president of the City Club, said Sunday. "Fun to be with. He will be sorely missed."
    Yes he will. There will be a tribute held in October, date to be announced, at Maggiano's of course. It will certainly lack the wit and sparkle found in abundance at meetings where Paul Green was present in person. But we will invoke his spirit to fill the void as best as we can. 

     To see Paul Green in action, go to the 27 minute mark of my 2012 talk before the City Club. 



  1. I took a Chicago History class with Professor Green in the late 70s and I vividly remember him describing the fallen glories of the mansions around 19th and Indiana, unperturbed by strands of his hair streaming in the wind. Since then from time to time I've read his commentaries on political events and they always impressed me as being better informed and more cogently expressed than others emoted by academia. I'm not surprised that Neil found him to be a reliable guide to political understanding.


  2. Although I sometimes disagreed with him, I always enjoyed listening to him on WGN radio.

  3. Sounds like someone to have known. The book about Chicago Mayors sounds like a good read.

    Don't know if Clark St. is here today, but I owe him an apology for blowing off his observation that I shouldn't have anglicized the spelling of Pearl Harbor. That the spelling of place names should not be altered seems a good rule, and one I would instinctively tend to follow with other pproper nouns. I would not, for instance, refer to denizens of the Pentagon as members of the Deparment of Defence umder any circumstances.

    Tom Evans

  4. What a beautiful and apt tribute.


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