Monday, October 17, 2016

Saying goodbye to Ed McElroy

Sept. 8, 2016, Poetry Foundation

     The third to the last time I saw Ed McElroy alive was in early September, when he showed up at the Poetry Foundation for my book launch. That's what Ed did: he showed up. Old-school, no excuses. While typical friends are always there when they need you, Ed was always there, in a suit and tie, driving a black Cadillac. Though he wasn't always happy about it. "I thought there would be food at this," he said after the reading, his subtle hint that maybe I should invite him to the foundation's private dinner, so I did. He parked in a crosswalk on Clark Street, which puzzled my New York publishing pals — why was the car still there 90 minutes later? I pointed out the ceremonial police baton with its red tassel placed conspicuously on the dashboard. Welcome to Chicago.
     Ed was famous, once, in the 1950s and 1960s, on WJJD. He announced wrestling, boxing, bicycle races. He hung out with Ted Williams. When he married Rita in 1955, Richard J. Daley attended the wedding. Daley once sent Ed to the airport to pick up a young senator from Massachusetts. John F. Kennedy and Ed had dinner on Rush Street.
     "Ed knew Martin Luther King," I told our table mates. "King was very good to me," agreed Ed.
     The second to the last time I saw Ed alive was at the end of September. He invited me to dinner at Gene & Georgetti with Marc Schulman, owner of Eli's Cheesecake. The occasion was pure Ed, in that I had no idea why we were there -- for Marc's benefit, or my benefit, or his. After radio, Ed became a publicist, for the Water Reclamation District and the Fraternal Order of Police and countless judges. He worked so smoothly you forgot he was working. We talked about Marc's dad, Eli, and the last time Ed and I ate at his namesake steakhouse on Chicago Avenue. Colleague Ray Coffey had grown weary in retirement, and we were cheering him up. That was also the sort of thing Ed did. He kept tabs. If you were Catholic and homebound, he'd slide by and give you communion, removing the wafer from a gold box he kept in his pocket. If you needed cheering, he'd take you to a steak house.
     In that light, maybe dinner was for me.

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Rita and Ed McElroy ins his home office. 


  1. Hi Neil -
    What a nice tribute and goodbye. He must have been a great guy. It was nice that you were able to see him last week in the hospital. I'm sure it probably meant a lot to him.


  2. No doubt Ed McElroy represented all that was good about Chicago politics and perhaps a little of what was bad about it.


  3. Sorry for the loss of your good friend Neil. I was glad to see Ed at the book signing at Poetry Foundation and was able to exchange pleasantries with him. I knew Ed through the bad side of politics but was glad I was able to make peace with him at your reading. May the wind be at his back...


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