I don’t usually write obits.
But this one needs telling.
His name was Edward Morris Bakwin.
But he preferred being called “Pete.”
Pete’s maternal great-grandfather Gustavus F. Swift (1839-1903), whose life is recorded in the book “Yankee of the Yards,” founded Swift & Company.
Pete’s paternal great-grandfather, Nelson Morris (1838–1907), founded Morris & Company.
Yet, despite his legendary family’s credentials, Bakwin preferred to fly under the social radar; a courtly man who did not seek courtship; the first in line to open a door; the last in line to be impolite.
And hours before he suddenly died at his home in Indiana at the age of 90 last Thanksgiving, he told his family he was grateful for getting to eat the turkey leg, the Bears had won the game, and his “girls” (family) were around him.
Known for his banking brilliance, old-world manners, preference for a carnation in his mandatory three-piece suit, and owner of one of the world’s greatest Impressionist art collections, “Pete” may not have been a regular guy — but he was a great guy.
“Pete shared his incredible success generously and with grace, elegance and decorum,” said Daniel McCaffery, CEO of McCaffery Interests, one of Bakwin’s longtime friends and traveling companions.
“He set the standard that defines the term gentleman,” said McCaffery. “We lost one of the last true gentlemen of our era.”
The eldest of four children, Bakwin said “his father did not tolerate rudeness to anyone, especially his mother … or the help. And taught him the importance of good manners,” said Lois Robles, a close friend.
A world traveler, Bakwin also owned a yacht he sailed from port to port all over the world with his long-time companion, Mary Louise Karth.
“His boat … yacht…was named ‘Embark’ and Peter tried to meet it somewhere in the world one week a month throughout his life,” said auction stellar Leslie Hindman, who traveled with him to Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Russia, and Estonia. (I also traveled twice with Hindman on Bakwin’s boat.)
“He loved a good stiff drink and a cigar; he was brilliant and fascinating and knew a lot about history, and one of Pete’s favorite industries was oil and gas,” said Hindman. “And if he asked you to dinner, he always brought flowers,” she said.
My introduction years ago to Bakwin via Hindman led to an invitation to visit his modestly furnished apartment at the John Hancock Building: On the walls were paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Renoir, Rouault, Vollard, Maillol and Braque.
I was floored.
His pediatrician parents, Ruth Mae Morris Bakwin and his father, Harry Bakwin, had amassed the collection decades ago.
“Look, Peter was not only a brilliant business person, but he traveled more internationally than anyone I’ve ever met,” said Hindman.
“He continued traveling until the day he died. I believe his last trip had been a boat trip through Russia.”
In fact, Bakwin became ill in Russia and was taken to a hospital in St. Petersburg before being shipped back to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
“Pete came home a week later and was really looking forward to eating that turkey leg at Thanksgiving,” said Robles.
“Two hours before he died after Thanksgiving dinner, he told me: ‘I had my turkey leg and watched the Chicago Bears WIN.’ And he was so happy to have all his girls (family) at home with him.
“An amazing man, an avid fisherman, Pete would fish anyplace … and that is why he bought his Indiana property. It contained three lakes,” said Robles.
Privately, he collected rare textiles. And as a young man, he once wrote a military newspaper column called “For Pete’s Sake” about a fictional army private.
Professionally, Bakwin was a pioneer in cost-accounting systems and computerization, and at the age of 34 became Chicago’s youngest bank president. By 2001, Bakwin had orchestrated the merger of Mid-City National Bank with Manufacturers Bank and was named chairman of MB Financial Inc., before retiring in 2006.
In February of 1963, the Chicago Sun-Times Midwest ran a story about Bakwin with the headline: “Expressway Banker; The Money Rolls In.”
It stated: “Bakwin has capitalized on Chicago’s vast roadway improvements — Mid-City is situated . . . west of the Northwest Expressway and Bakwin has advertised it widely as the ‘Expressway bank.’ ”
He is survived by his longtime companion, Mary Louise Karth; their daughter, Elizabeth Bakwin; two granddaughters, Anna Bakwin and Natalie Bakwin; and a sister Barbara Rosenthal. His beloved brother, Michael, who was also one of his frequent traveling companions, died 11 days after Bakwin’s passing.
Services and burial will be private.
Bravo to a life well-lived, Pete.