Longtime Chicago philanthropist Frances Ceraulo Comer dead at 85

She and her husband, Gary Comer, funded the Comer Family Foundation, Gary Comer Youth Center and Comer Children’s Hospital, among other philanthropic ventures.

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Frances Ceraulo Comer, a lifelong Chicago philanthropist, died Dec. 4 at the age of 85. She and her husband, Gary Comer, formed Comer Family Foundation, Gary Comer Youth Center and Comer Children’s Hospital, among other philanthropic ventures.


Chicago native Frances Ceraulo Comer, a longtime philanthropist often described as a “force of nature” by those who knew her, died earlier this month. She was 85.

The daughter of Sicilian immigrants, Mrs. Comer was planning a family trip to Italy when she died Dec. 4 with her two children by her side, according to the Comer Family Foundation.

Growing up in Chicago and attending Elgin Academy, Mrs. Comer, known as “Francie,” always had an affinity for the city. She met her late husband, Gary Comer, when she was working in Chicago; according to her obituary on the foundation’s website, she was on a date with another man with Gary Comer asked for her number; she wrote it in lipstick on a napkin, and gave it to him.

Soon after, in 1962, they married.

Gary Comer founded Lands’ End the next year. He started it to sell boating equipment and accessories, but the Comers built the company into a successful apparel retailer and a mail-order catalog giant.

Once the business went public in 1986, the pair made it a mission to invest in the city they both grew up in, sharing a desire to pour time, energy and money into philanthropic efforts, according to the Comer Family Foundation, which they founded also in 1986. The foundation focuses on investing in the environment, health and education in Chicago.

They homed in on the South Side, where Mr. Comer grew up, to revitalize the neighborhoods in the area — he attended Paul Revere Elementary School and Hyde Park High School. Built in 2006, the Gary Comer Youth Center in Greater Grand Crossing continues to offer enrichment programs, academic support and a safe space for students to go after school. Recognizing disparities in health care, the Comers funded the creation of Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.

After Mrs. Comer’s husband died of prostate cancer in 2006 at 78, she continued the family’s philanthropic legacy, establishing Gary Comer College Prep and helping fund the Grand Crossing branch of the Chicago Public Library. Mrs. Comer was known for an innate ability to bring people together to change things for the better, according to the obituary on the foundation’s website.

Deeply integrated in myriad aspects of Chicago, Mrs. Comer generously supported the Art Institute and called Mayor Richard M. Daley and his late wife, Maggie Daley, friends. She and her husband’s donations also contributed to the founding of Millennium Park.

A world traveler, Mrs. Comer volunteered with Mother Teresa at her orphanage in India and made numerous other trips to Asia. The Comers also enjoyed time at their summer home on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Mrs. Comer is survived by: her daughter, Stephanie (Rob Craigie); her son, Guy Comer (Courtney); her half-brother, Philip Ceraulo; and grandchildren Siena Craigie, Luca Craigie, Gary Campbell Comer II, Spencer Comer and Clarissa Comer.

Services will be private. The family asks that contributions in her memory be made to the Gary Comer Youth Center.

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