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A legend as an investor and donor, Richard Driehaus dies at 78

Starting on the South Side, he saved, mastered the stock market, and backed causes that ranged from excellence in architecture and fashion to education and good government.

Richard Driehaus outside the Driehaus Museum in 2012.
Richard Driehaus outside the Driehaus Museum in 2012.
Sun-Times File

Richard Driehaus knew what he liked — in stocks, classical architecture, the performing arts, parties and old cars. A hard worker since his youth as a newspaper carrier, he attained a life of privilege without forgetting how to have a good time or help others.

The name itself is evidence of his generosity. It’s on a museum, a foundation, an architecture prize, a fashion competition, numerous academic buildings and programs, and on awards celebrating historic preservation and the Chicago bungalow. Eager to help students at St. Xavier University learn about the service industry and running businesses, he donated to the school a Mount Greenwood pub, Gilhooley’s, along with the shopping plaza containing it.

“He would say this a lot, ‘The mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open,’” said Eli Boufis, who worked with Mr. Driehaus for 20 years and with him started Driehaus Private Equity. He said open-mindedness informed Mr. Driehaus’ lifelong success in investing and his embrace of new products and technology. “He never got old in his strategy,” Boufis said.

Mr. Driehaus, 78, died Tuesday night at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Boufis said. He said Mr. Driehaus had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage the night before at his home.

Known throughout the financial world as an early practitioner of “momentum investing,” which calls for spotting stocks on prolonged upward trends, Mr. Driehaus founded Driehaus Capital Management in 1982. Today, it manages $13.2 billion through its mutual funds and other accounts. He expanded into private equity later.

The capital management business is in a Romanesque building at 25 E. Erie St. Mr. Driehaus lovingly preserved the Chicago landmark, originally home to a 19th century railroad magnate. His Driehaus Museum, devoted to Gilded Age flourishes, is in another landmark at 40 E. Erie St.

In 2000, Barron’s named him to its “all-century” team of 25 individuals it identified as most influential in the mutual fund industry. For all his success in Wall Street, Mr. Driehaus cherished the outlook and friendships Chicago bestowed. He told a City Club of Chicago audience in 2016, “In New York, I’m just another successful guy. You can’t make an impact in New York. But in Chicago, you can because it’s big enough and it’s small enough and people actually get along enough” — a line that drew cheers.

Mr. Driehaus used to say his life was influenced by his father’s difficulty affording a nicer home. He told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1996 that he saved $1,000 from his paper route in Brainerd on the city’s Far South Side and, at 13, invested in stocks recommended by financial columnists. The stocks tanked, teaching him about the market and the wisdom of financial columnists. He resolved to get smart on his own and find a career that would let him own the home he wanted.

He ended up owning several, including a Lake Geneva estate that became another preservation project. His annual summer birthday parties there, complete with fireworks and a guest list topping 1,000 people, were legendary. His 2019 version with a James Bond theme and an appearance by Diana Ross was a particular hit.

For all the hoopla, Mr. Driehaus cared not to be the center of attention, but to entertain others and to maintain close connection to his three daughters, Boufis said.

Mr. Driehaus earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from DePaul University, where he endowed a center for behavioral finance. In 2002, the university gave him an honorary doctorate. He also supported St. Ignatius College Prep and St. Margaret of Scotland parish.

His philanthropy extended to numerous organizations representing many civic interests. Among them was the watchdog organization the Better Government Association. Andy Shaw, the BGA’s former president, said a series of meetings and “a lovely dinner over a couple bottles of wine in 2010” resulted in a $1 million donation, the organization’s largest ever.

“Richard is a Chicago legend and icon — a great rags-to-riches, ‘neighborhood-kid-makes-good’ success story, and one of the most generous and eclectic philanthropists in Chicago,” Shaw said.

In addition to his daughters, Tereza, Caroline and Kate, survivors include two sisters, said Stasi Radaios, administrative assistant at the private equity firm.

Services are pending.