Chicago Police officer Preston Ross Jr., who suffered a fatal heart attack while on duty Saturday morning near a River West neighborhood CTA station, is being remembered as a man who was a role model for young men on the South Side – taking them to sports events, giving them work so they would stay off the streets and keeping in contact with them so that they did not fall behind and lose sight of their dreams.
He was a 25-year police veteran who won 17 awards during his tenure, according to a police statement. Assigned to the South Side Morgan Park District, Officer Ross, 48, was in uniform, working a CTA detail in the River West area near the CTA Blue Line station at Grand and Milwaukee avenues Saturday morning when he experienced problems breathing, then collapsed, police said.
A Chicago Fire Department ambulance took the officer to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 10 a.m., police News Affairs Officer Robert Perez said.
He was remembered Sunday by Derrick Hardy, 30, now living in Los Angeles where he works for Motown Records.
Ross was a role model for “countless” young people in his South Side Chatham neighborhood, Hardy said.
Ross had known Hardy’s family since Hardy was a young boy, but Officer Ross treated everyone like family, Hardy said. “He just wanted us all to look out for each other.
On his block in Chatham, “there were so many of us, and he treated all of us like we were brothers. He made sure we’d stay on the right path. He just wanted to be that male role model a lot of us were lacking. There are a lot of 20- to 30-year-olds that owe a debt of gratitude to Preston.”
Ross would take Hardy and other kids to high school basketball games when they were young, while asking them about their own plans for high school. And when he and his friends got into high school, Ross would “always ask us what college we were going to.”
Ross, who operated a lawncare service had Hardy cut grass for him, which kept him off the streets and made him earn some money at the same time. Other times, “he’d call us and say, ‘get ready, we’re going to play basketball,’” and he’d take Hardy and other neighborhood boys to play basketball with other police officers.
“He was doing everything he could to just keep us off of the streets,” Hardy said.
Ross had a presence that made others respect him, Hardy recalled. “He was intimidating,” Hardy said. “He’d tell you if you messed up.” Though he worked in another South Side district, young people in Ross’s Chatham neighborhood feared being caught by Ross if they got into trouble.
“He believed in being a good role model,” Hardy said. Officer Ross, whose own father died at the age of 41, according to Hardy, “lived life to the fullest. He left a lasting memory, because he was just a great guy. He taught us how to be men.”
After dropping out of Jackson State University, Hardy came back to Chicago and wasn’t doing much of anything when Ross, who went to Chicago State, told him about the South Side university. Hardy enrolled there and subsequently dropped out of Chicago State, but Ross kept on him, and “urged me not to slip up. I ended up going back to school (at Columbia College) and worked harder than I ever did in my life to get my degree, and ended up being a teacher there.” He attributes this perseverance to Officer Ross. “He taught me to never give up and never quit.”
Hardy has also earned success as a rapper and while Ross, who had a preference for smooth jazz, at first just hoped his rapping wouldn’t be negative, once he saw Hardy’s music had a message that aimed to be positive, he was onboard and “he’d show people the newspaper and magazine clippings” about him.
Hardy remarked that Officer Ross had one son, who, though he is younger than Hardy, has been the one consoling him in the wake of Officer Ross’s death, which he says just shows how Ross’s son is taking after his father.
Ross “didn’t care about himself,” Hardy said. “He was the type of person that if he got $50 he’d rather divide it among 50 people than keep it for himself. He was just a great guy. A lot of people are going to miss him.”