Bob Fanning not only ran with the wolves, he liked to kill them.
“He was a man’s man, a bear hunter, a horseback rider, there was no one like Bob,” said his lifelong friend, Frank Murnane, owner of the Murnane Cos. “They broke the mold with Bob Fanning; one of a kind, in all respects.”
Fanning’s lifelong animosity toward wolves came from a desire to protect elk, as founder of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd. In one of those epic battles that roil the great expanse of the West, between federal power and state authority, between environmentalists and ranchers, you knew exactly where Bob Fanning stood.
“Lock and load and saddle up while there is still snow on the ground,” Fanning declared, after the governor of Montana encouraged local ranchers to shoot troublesome wolves on their property in 2011, the year Fanning ran for Montana governor, part of a pack of Republican hopefuls, though he did not win.
As to how an Oak Park native, graduate of Holy Cross High School in River Grove, ended up in Big Sky Country, well therein lies the tale of Robert T. Fanning Jr., 69, who died on Christmas Eve, in Billings, Montana.
He was born in 1949, one of six brothers — Danny, Kevin, Brian, Quinn and Tim, and a sister, Mary. Their father, Robert T. Fanning Sr, was a stockbroker who owned Fanning Shoes in Oak Park, and mother Ann was a homemaker.
While at Holy Cross he met the love of his life, Lynn, before heading off to Notre Dame, where he was nicknamed “Bruiser” for his play on the rugby team.
He graduated Notre Dame in 1973, married Lynn and the couple moved to Elmwood Park, where they raised three children. In 1974, he went to work for PaineWebber. His first big client was George Halas. He also attended the Keller Graduate School of Management from 1975 to 1977.
Fanning worked as a bond trader at the Chicago Board of Trade for two decades and sometimes appeared on CNN to talk about the financial markets. Fanning left the Board of Trade in 1994, purchasing a troubled company burdened by asbestos claims, M.H. Detrick of Mokena.
But his main avocation was hunting big game in Montana, and organizing and defending small ranchers and hunters from wolf overpopulation. He was also passionately committed to right wing causes, sometimes combining the two.
Speaking against wolves in Grangeville, Idaho in 2003, Fanning said the introduction of Canadian wolves into the Northwest was a criminal conspiracy by a bunch of “pot-smoking, wine-sucking, vegetarian lawyers,” designed to end ranching on public lands. Claiming that “the Yellowstone ecosystem has become a biological desert” and that its elk herd would be extinct in three years.
“He was true to himself, true to his friends and true to his faith,” Murnane said. “He was like a brother to me. I love the man.”
Survivors include his three children, Rory, Heather and Ryan, and seven grandchildren. His brothers survive him except for Danny, who died about 15 years ago. He also leaves behind Champ, a beloved service sheep dog.
“You definitely have to mention Champ,” Murnane said. “Definitely his best buddy. He didn’t go anywhere without Champ; he’s going to miss Bob.”
Funeral services will take place Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. at St. Giles Parish in Oak Park. Burial follows at All Saints in Des Plaines. A memorial service will be held in Livingston, Montana, on March 29.