A beloved Cub. A trailblazing female politician. An architect who defined Chicago’s later skyline. A great American film critic.
Each of them is on our Top 10 list of influential Chicagoans who died in the past decade.
We know: Such a list is more than a little absurd. As if anybody could winnow down to a mere 10 the most important people who put a huge mark on Chicago between the start of 2010 and the end of 2019. There have been hundreds, thousands.
But if only to get the conversation going, we gave it a shot.
Who did we miss? Tell us by writing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernie Banks (2015)
Even a lot of White Sox fans had a soft spot for “Mr. Cub.” Banks was a Hall of Fame shortstop, the first African American player for the Cubs and, in the mind of most fans, the “Greatest Cub Ever.” He also was much more complicated than his cheery persona let on.
Margaret Burroughs (2010)
Burroughs, a trailblazing artist and teacher, recognized in 1961 that museums were shortchanging black art and culture. So she and her husband turned the ground floor of their Bronzeville home into what later became the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park. She also founded the South Side Community Art Center.
Jane Byrne (2014)
Chicago’s first female mayor was elected mayor because Mike Bilandic failed to get the streets plowed after a blizzard and shrugged his shoulders. Byrne humiliated the Democratic Machine.
Phil Chess (2016)
Chess Records changed American music by recording the blues, often ramped up Chicago-style, and making it widely accessible. Phil and his brother Leonard recorded one legend after another: Muddy Waters, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon. A younger generation of music-makers, notably the Rolling Stones, piggybacked on Chicago blues and called it rock ’n’ roll.
Roger Ebert (2013)
Writing for our newspaper, Ebert won the first Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, and he championed many of the film world’s greatest artists before they were famous, such as Martin Scorsese. He wrote always with a deep sense of social justice. Two thumbs up, Roger.
Rev. Clay Evans (2019)
Evans personified the black church and gospel music, and was known for his civil rights activism. When Martin Luther King Jr. brought his crusade to Chicago, other black pastors feared losing favor with Mayor Richard J. Daley and kept King at arms’ length. Evans embraced him.
Bruce Graham (2010)
It’s impossible to imagine Chicago’s skyline without the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center. Graham designed both, as well as other landmark buildings, securing Chicago’s reputation as a mecca for great architecture.
Hugh Hefner (2017)
He smoked a pipe, wore silk pajamas and built a publishing empire. In its heyday, Playboy magazine challenged and reshaped cultural norms about sex and relationships — for better and worse.
Harold Ramis (2014)
He was the comic muse behind “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day,” “Stripes” and “Animal House.” Ramis, who started out at Second City, became American movie royalty, but he stuck around town. “In Los Angeles, Steven Spielberg walks around and you’re nothing,” he once said. “Here, there’s nobody better than me.”
Mary White (2016) and Viola Lennon (2010)
They were two of the seven founders of La Leche League International. For purposes of our list, we’re presenting them as one entry. In the 1940s and 1950s, breast-feeding often was viewed in developed nations — and, to an extent, in developing countries — as primitive and unsanitary. Thanks to La Leche, it is now standard practice.
Maggie Daley, the wife of Mayor Richard M. Daley, for her dedication to the arts and children’s issues.
Don Cornelius, who created the TV show “Soul Train,” for bringing black music into the mainstream.
Dennis Farina, a former Chicago cop, for perfectly playing cops and other edgy characters on TV and film.
Barbara Harris, the actress, for co-founding Second City.
Larry Heinemann, for writing two of the best novels ever about the Vietnam War: “Paco’s Story” and “Close Quarters.”
Pat Hill, former head of the African American Police League, for pushing Chicago to hire more black officers.
Ken Nordine, for hosting the Grammy-nominated “Word Jazz” on WBEZ radio.
Paul Obis, for founding the pioneering magazine Vegetarian Times in 1974.
Milt Rosenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, for hosting Extension 720 on WGN, proving there was a radio audience for the headiest conversation.
Dan Rostenkowski, who went to prison for mail fraud, for bringing home the bacon — federal funds and jobs — for more than three decades as one of most powerful members of Congress.
Judy Baar Topinka, the capable Illinois comptroller, for rising above partisanship while remaining firmly down to Earth.
Dan Walker, who went to prison for fraudulent business dealings after he was governor. He signed an executive order giving state workers the right to bargain collectively.
Lois Weisberg, Chicago’s longtime cultural czarina, for championing the public arts year.
Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, for creating a band that combined jazz, blues, funk and gospel and helped define the soundtrack of the 1970s and 1980s.