Saturday, February 24, 2024

Jim Tyree

      Live long enough, and men you know become statues.
      Well, that's how it's been for me anyway. Maybe for you, not so much.
      Some I knew fairly well: Roger Ebert, Irv Kupcinet, Jack Brickhouse. 
      Some I only spoke to once or twice: Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Harry Caray.
      All men, so far. Women don't seem to get statues. I'm not sure why, but lucky them. Being rendered into bronze has to be a mixed blessing. You need to be dead, usually. They make an exception for sports heroes. Though some of the statues — Ebert's, for instance — well, not the best likeness. 
      Some have other memorials as well. Harry Caray, for instance, the broadcaster, has a statue outside Wrigley Field, and a namesake restaurant in River North. I was trucking there Monday, through the double-deserted downtown. Especially empty because it was both President's Day, when many government offices were closed, and a Monday, when many workers wring out an extra day of weekend.
     So pretty much alone, proceeding along the 300 block of North Clark Street, heading to Harry Caray's to have lunch with a reader who had bought the meal in a charity auction, when I was stopped in my tracks by the plaque above.
      First, I'd never seen a memorial like this — a metal marker, not on the public way, but a private sidewalk between blocks, on a shortcut I was vectoring through.
      And second, I knew Jim Tyree, CEO of Mesirow Financial. He rescued the Sun-Times in 2009, leading a group of investors who, by paying $5 million and assuming $20 million in debt, snatched it from the vultures who'd have picked it clean long ago. 
      I remember the cocktail party he threw after he bought the paper. It wasn't for everybody — just machers — and I was surprised to find myself among the select. I wandered the crowd, nibbled appetizers, while running what I would say to him over in mind, smiling a little, thinking of Luca Brasi practicing his greeting by himself in the opening of "The Godfather."
    "Don Corleone. I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home... on the wedding day of your daughter..."
     I finally worked my way up to Jim, waiting for an opening and inserting myself into a gap in the circle of well-wishers. He looked at me. I introduced myself and said, formally "Mr. Tyree, thank you for saving the Sun-Times."
      To which he replied, "People tell me you're the reason they read the Sun-Times."
      Which left me speechless, groping for a response.  What I came up with was this:
      "Thank you. I'm reluctant to quote David Radler ... " — the predatory felon who owned the paper before Tyree — "...but he liked to say, 'When you make the sale, close your briefcase and walk away." 
    And I turned and left. We spoke again in the brief time he owned the paper — when he came down with cancer, I gave him Evan Handler's "Time on Fire," a primer on staying alive and keeping your spirits up while battling the Big C. 
     That wasn't what killed him — a technician preparing him for dialysis messed up the line into his artery, introduced oxygen, and that got him. An unfair end for a very giving man, someone who loved Chicago. 
     And now he is part of Chicago, literally an element of the infrastructure, like a fire hydrant or a lamppost, built into the ground, part of the pavement.  I'm not sure whether I'd like it if this caught on — you're trying to get somewhere, and all these prominent individuals call to you from below your feet. It's cool that there's the one. Jim Tyree deserves much more. But it's a start, and made me think of him, which is the point of these tributes. 

Clark Street, 12 noon.


  1. I’m sorry about the loss of Jim. We need more women and men like him. That picture of Clark Street is disturbing on many levels.

    1. That image haunts me, too. It really bothers me. A lot. I worked downtown for years, from the 70s to the 90s, as did my father did before me, from the 30s through the 60s. Going to work at a Loop office every day was just what one did, if one was a functioning adult. I never wanted to drive to a suburban office park, and I like trains a lot, so I sought out white-collar jobs downtown, because I actually liked going there and being there, at the heart of things. Even at lunchtime.

      Now...thanks to technology, and the Plague...that heart is gone. Or, at best, just beating erratically. Not only in Chicago, but in a lot of other urban centers as well. I just can't wrap my head around the idea that all those buildings sit unused, and even empty, and that EVERYBODY now works from home. I simply assumed, mistakenly, that the world of work had pretty much returned to what it was before the Snoring 20s. Wrong. That world appears to have become history.

      But what the hell do I know? I retired over a decade ago, and my last job in the Loop was thirty years ago. The image of a deserted Clark Street,. at high noon on a workday, has starkly brought home the new reality to this out-of-touch seventy-something geezer--an old Boomer who now sees life in the rear-view mirror. That picture speaks volumes, Mr. S, in so many ways. And I'm not liking what I'm hearing. Not liking it at all.

    2. I worked in the Loop for years. I also worked in Chicago neighborhoods and in various suburbs. The location didn’t determine whether I was a functioning adult.


    3. So glad to hear it. Thanks for sharing.

      Grizz 65

  2. Thank you for giving me such a thoughtful story to contemplate this Saturday morning. I remembered the name, Jim Tyree, but couldn’t think why. Very glad he saved the Sun Times and sorry he had a tragic death while facing a daunting diagnosis.

  3. I remember the blue plaques on buildings in London, where the great and good lived. So nice to come across them.

  4. 1. You forced me to look up "machers."
    2. Here in Iowa City, we've been designated as a UN "City of Literature." Because of this, similar metal plaques are embedded in the sidewalks of great writers worldwide throughout history. Fascinating details on people, most of us only have a passing knowledge.
    Sports heroes are great. Literary giants are greater.

  5. The area around the federal building is earily quiet ever since the pandemic it's everyday and it's not just outside. It's inside too. Some of the regulations that they adopted during the pandemic have remained in place and there's empty courtroom after empty courtroom. I work in there and it's really weird but a lot easier to get your job done

  6. "People tell me you're the reason they read the Sun-Times." A whole lot of things have changed in the 15 years since he greeted you that way. For many, that hasn't.

  7. Jim Tyree got that right: you are one of the main reasons I subscribe to the S-T. It was a delight to learn about him, which caused me to turn to Google, where there are several more praiseworthy tributes. I wonder who put that plaque in the sidewalk? It would be fun to see more people honored in that way. From my point of view, every life lived is an epic.

  8. Thank you for remembering my father he was a amazing man who strived for greatness and kindness. I hope that one day I could be half of the man he was.

  9. Proud to have called Ty a friend. The list of good deeds he selflessly did for others is very, very long. One of the best men I've ever known.

  10. I worked for Jim in private equity and sat four offices away at 350 North Clark. He hired me late in my career after working for a large pension fund. I was an Air Force Vietnam era veteran and had all the educational credentials and was a few years older than Jim. He started private equity and I was impressed daily by his wisdom and intelligence. I thought he was a wonderful man that we lost too soon. I'm glade to finally see a tribute. He made my family and I better people. God bless Jim Tyree.


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