Before Dr. Yrech Pardo immigrated to America in 1949, he’d never seen snow or skyscrapers up close.
He was among a group of Haitian-born physicians who arrived in Chicago to work at Provident Hospital. In 1955, the hospital received a visit from Haitian President Paul Magloire, a military strongman who courted them to return to their homeland after their medical studies. But once dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier came to power in 1957, Dr. Pardo decided to build a life in Chicago.
And though he experienced racial prejudice in his adopted city and country, he lived long enough to see a black man become president and for one of his grandsons to work in President Obama’s White House.
Dr. Pardo died Dec. 12 at Montgomery Place in Hyde Park. He was 95.
He grew up the oldest of nine children of Fucien and Ambroisine Pardo in Marmelade, a Haitian town known for its bananas, coffee and mangos. His father, who ran a store that sold food and textiles, “was really, really insistent his kids get an education,” said Dr. Pardo’s grandson, Daniel Hornung.
Young Yrech attended medical school at the University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince and went on to study at historic Provident Hospital, one of the nation’s first black-owned and black-operated medical institutions. He then applied to work in the pathology department at Cook County Hospital, where he was one of only four black residents out of hundreds, according to Hornung.
There he met chemist Karin Zacharias, who became his wife of 50 years. She and her family spent World War II in the Jewish refugee community in Shanghai. They’d fled Königsberg, Germany before the Nazis came to power.
The young couple enjoyed going to dances at the International House at the University of Chicago, a friendly place for an interracial couple in those days.
They wed in 1958 in California, where he was serving in the Navy.
To take his board exams, he traveled to New Orleans. Dr. Pardo thought a local dean was being exceptionally friendly when he personally greeted the test-takers. But, his grandson said, the doctor came to realize the dean was actually there to make sure that black physicians weren’t hassled when they arrived at the doctors’ entrance.
Back in Chicago, he applied for many jobs that never seemed to materialize. “It was because the hospitals he was interviewing at did not have black doctors,” his grandson said.
Dr. Pardo decided to start a private practice. He drove around the South Side in his Plymouth Duster to make house calls. Often, Daniel Hornung said, he worked “seven days a week,” came home to eat dinner and then headed out to see more patients.
Many of his patients had come north in the Great Migration. “He would talk about hearing southern English for the first time,” his grandson said.
“He was a trailblazer for my dad and other Haitian physicians who ended up settling in Chicago,” said state Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul, whose late father, Janin, also a doctor, was from Port-de-Paix. After Raoul’s father died in 2003, Dr. Pardo “would consistently check on my mother,” Marie-Therese.
Though Raoul’s father didn’t live to see his election wins, Dr. Pardo would tell him how proud his dad would have been.
Even in his 90s, Dr. Pardo always dressed in a suit and tie and had “impeccable manners,” said Sheree Franklin-Hill, a family friend who once worked for him as a receptionist.
“He was elegant, but simple,” Raoul said. His Plymouth Duster car “was symbolic of his humility.”
The Pardos lived in a Hyde Park townhouse decorated with paintings of rural Haitian life. Every winter until his wife’s death in 2008, they enjoyed vacationing in Freeport, Bahamas.
He enjoyed attending French-language dinners at Montgomery Place. He also spoke Spanish and German and read Greek and Latin, according to his grandson. And he liked fishing at Jackson Park Harbor, said Franklin-Hill.
Dr. Pardo is survived by his daughters, Jacqueline and Linda; sisters Celine and Lucie; brothers Ulrick, Sosthène and Daniel, and grandsons Max and Daniel Hornung, who worked as a policy advisor in the Obama administration. A memorial service is planned at 2 p.m. Feb. 9 at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. South Shore Drive.