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Lake Shore Drive sentry Kermit Campbell, ‘so much more than’ a doorman, has died

Kermit Campbell, a popular night-shift doorman at 840 N. Lake Shore Dr. for nearly a decade, was known as a sharp dresser.

Kermit Campbell, a popular night-shift doorman at 840 N. Lake Shore Dr. for nearly a decade, was known as a sharp dresser. | Provided photo

Good doormen are sentries, security and ambassadors for the high-rises where they work, occasionally surrogate therapists and sometimes even more.

For nearly a decade, Kermit Campbell worked the night shift at 840 N. Lake Shore Drive, scanning monitors and keeping an eye out for anything unusual at the park across the street. When building residents went out at night to walk their dogs, he watched to make sure they came back.

One night, when a resident in obvious distress came down to the lobby, Mr. Campbell sprang to action.

“He assisted someone who was out of breath and gasping, assisted them to the chair, called 911, got water and stayed with them, talking to them, until the ambulance got there,” said building manager Reon Valdiserri. She believes he helped save a life that night.

Mr. Campbell, 72, died Nov. 25 at Illinois Masonic Hospital. He had pancreatic cancer, according to his daughter Kermeice Gilbert.

Kermit Campbell was both sentry and warm presence at 840 N. Lake Shore Dr. | Provided photo

Each morning, he’d go around and deliver newspapers to 71 units at 6 a.m.

He kept track of when special occasions were coming up, and he would remind busy spouses not to forget them, said building resident Gregory Gerber, a senior managing director with JLL real estate. “Someone’s got a birthday coming up,” he’d say. “Are you going to do the right thing?”

“To say his title was ‘doorman’ — he was so much more than that,” said Reggie Stewart, a coworker. “He was that big brother, always watching.”

He was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where his father Kermit worked at the old Stringer Funeral Home. When he was about 5, he and his family moved north in the Great Migration — his mother Ruby was featured in author Nicholas Lemann’s book “The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America.” The family settled in Chicago, where his mother worked as a maid at the Palmer House hotel, said his brother Larry Daniels, and young Kermit went to DuSable High School.

His brother said they learned to use caution when they went back to Mississippi. “Once you got across the Mason-Dixon line, even on the Greyhound bus, you have to go to the back of the bus,” Larry Daniels said.

Kermit Campbell (just right of Christmas tree) and other staffers at 840 N. Lake Shore Dr. | Provided photo

Before becoming a doorman at the Lucien Lagrange-designed building on Lake Shore Drive, Mr. Campbell worked as a chauffeur, a janitor at the old Michael Reese Hospital and a maintenance worker for the Chicago Public Schools. He also had an exterminating business and a cleaning business with big accounts at hospitals, according to relatives and friends.

At 840 N. Lake Shore Drive, he was known as “Mr. Capricorn” because of his January birthday. Some people would call him “Mr. GQ” for his elegant style. He liked to look sharp in three-piece suits, often with a hint of purple in the tie or vest. And he’d add a splash of good cologne — Nautica was a favorite.

Gerber said that when he was getting dressed for the day, he would look forward to seeing whether Mr. Campbell approved of his suit. “He was a man of style,” Gerber said. “He would be, like, “Oh, we got a big day today.’ ”

And Mr. Campbell loved his white 2016 Chrysler 300C with its leather interior and sunroof.

Younger staffers looked to him for wisdom, Stewart said. “He would say, ‘Other people’s perceptions of you are none of your business. You can’t worry about it or dwell on it. Just be yourself.’ ”

Mr. Campbell enjoyed church and secular music and sang in the choir at St. Mark United Methodist Church, sometimes channeling the lustrous falsetto of Eddie Kendricks from the Temptations, one of his favorite groups.

At family cookouts, he and his brother might get in a line and show off their suave take on the synchronized dance moves of the Temptations to “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “The Girl’s Alright with Me.” He’d put on a skullcap to mimic Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Goin’ On” and “Distant Lover.”

Mr. Campbell used to go to the old Regal theater at 47th and South Parkway to see his favorite entertainers. He also enjoyed the nightlife at the High Chaparral, the Green Bunny and the Peppermint Lounge.

He’d greet people with “What it do?” The kids in his family called him “Uncle Zuzu.”

And, according to his brother, “He was a great cook. That was a thing mama taught all the boys.” People loved his beef stew, oxtail soup and greens with salt pork.

In addition to his daughter Kermeice Gilbert and brother Larry Daniels, Mr. Campbell is also survived by daughters Bette Campbell, Germaine Campbell and Sharla Lyons, sons Albert Campbell and Dennis Williams, sisters Juanita Haynes, Teresa Butler, Rosie Butler and Mary Butler, brothers Johnnie Daniels, Terrell Daniels, Robert Haynes and Larry Butler, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and his companion Patricia Phillips.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Dec. 14 at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 8441 S. St. Lawrence Ave.