As a young man, Trace Sorey weathered two devastating blows within 13 months: the death of his mother, Susan, from pancreatic cancer, then seeing his father, former Chicago Bears guard Revie Sorey, incapacitated by a massive stroke.
Yet he remained positive and upbeat and went to college to prepare for a career in the music business, relatives say.
The 24-year-old’s death earlier this month, in an accidental drowning at a pool in Los Angeles, has left relatives distraught, as well as friends from Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, where he used to play football.
“He was an extraordinary individual. His loss is irreplaceable,” said Mort Efron. “He always was joyful and made people around him joyful.”
Efron and his wife, Anita, are Trace’s godparents. They’ve also acted as his second set of parents. A lawyer, Efron was a close friend of Revie Sorey and his late wife. Efron represented the University of Illinois graduate in the mid-1970s when he was drafted by the Bears, for whom he played from 1975 to 1983. He was a popular guard who blocked for Walter Payton.
The Soreys and Efrons spent holidays and vacations together. “They were family,” Efron said Monday.
After Susan Sorey died in April 2011 and Revie Sorey’s health began to falter, the Efrons invited Revie and Trace Sorey to live with them in Chicago.
“Trace moved in with us,” Efron said. “He has a bedroom. He is our son, no question about it.”
It was also good for his father to be in the middle of downtown’s bustle and closer to his job at Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Efron said. He said his wife Anita made sure the elder Sorey took his medications.
The former Bear resided with them until his stroke in March 2012. He now lives at the Warren Barr Pavilion on the North Side in a room the Efrons decorated with football memorabilia. The Efrons and his old Bears teammates are frequent visitors, Efron said.
Trace Sorey was attending Santa Monica College to prepare for a career on the business side of the music industry, Efron said, but he visited Chicago often and always planned to move back.
“All of his friends are here,” Efron said. “His heart was here.”
He spent his first year in college at Arizona State University, and when some ASU friends visited California for an Oct. 1 ASU-USC football game, Trace got together with them. He went “to a place they were staying,” Efron said. “It was supposed to be a very nice [residence] in the Hollywood Hills.”
Later that evening, when his friends couldn’t find Trace, they called police to file a missing person’s report, Efron said. They’d looked in the pool but apparently couldn’t see his body because he was in the deep end, and the water visibility was also affected by chemicals, he said.
Only when police arrived with searchlights was his body found, Efron said. The Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office confirmed Monday the cause of death was accidental drowning.
“It was reported [he] possibly consumed alcohol,” said Ed Winter, the office’s assistant chief of investigations. “They were at a party and were unable to locate him, discovered him in the pool, and [he] wasn’t a good swimmer.”
“It’s just one of those things,” Efron said. “Every indication is he didn’t suffer.
“He was a happy, happy kid,” Efron said. “It’s an unfortunate drowning accident. . . . It’s horrible.”
Revie Sorey recently had been working hard at physical therapy in an intensive facility in Reno, Nevada, but had to take a break for major surgery for a twisted bowel.
“We couldn’t even tell him,” Efron said.
The former Bear returned to Chicago Saturday. “We just told him yesterday,” Efron said.
Anita Efron began with: “It’s the hardest thing I’m ever going to have to tell you.” Efron said he understood and “is in shock at this point.”
Trace Sorey always prevailed through loss. His mother, who had wanted to live until his graduation, instead died at noon on the day of his prom. The school and his friends displayed purple ribbons, a symbol of the fight against pancreatic cancer.
“Everybody rallied around, didn’t want him sitting home. It was like a community,” Efron said.
And Trace went to his prom.
He taught himself to play guitar and keyboards and was an accomplished singer and songwriter.
“He was happy, talented, very well-liked, always smiling,” Efron said. “He was just, to me, the perfect kid.”
Trace Sorey is also survived by the Efrons’ other children, Jessica and Matthew. Visitation is at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, with a service at 2 p.m.
His favorite place was South Haven, Mich., where his mother’s ashes were scattered, Efron said. His ashes are to be scattered there, too.