Shirley Haas, writer, reporter, raconteur, bookstore owner, dead at 97

Her Fiery Clock Face bookstore in Andersonville was a gathering spot for bibliophiles and her annual New Year’s Eve party was an ‘A-list’ event.

SHARE Shirley Haas, writer, reporter, raconteur, bookstore owner, dead at 97
Shirley Haas in 2012.

Shirley Haas in 2012.

Sun-Times file

Whenever Shirley Haas walked into a room, even long after she retired, people gathered around to be regaled with colorful stories of Chicago’s political, literary and journalistic past.

“Shirley was a vibrant and colorful personality and a gifted Chicago reporter from the heyday of Chicago journalism with great stories to tell,” said author Richard Lindberg. “She never slowed down, she loved books and the company of authors, and her Fiery Clock Face bookstore in Andersonville was a gathering spot for bibliophiles. Shirley’s annual New Year’s Eve party was an ‘A-list’ event and a rollicking good time for all of us who valued her friendship and her tremendous esprit de corps.”

Ms. Haas died peacefully on Jan. 19 at her Lincoln Park home after complications from a stroke in October. She was 97.

Ms. Haas grew up on the South Side. Her father Loftus P. Lowry was an Irish immigrant and Chicago police lieutenant. Her mother Catherine was the daughter of Armand Lilien, an early Chicago labor organizer. She attended Calumet Park High School and got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and the humanities from the University of Chicago.

After graduation, she covered crime, police and the courts for the City News Bureau of Chicago before moving to the Chicago Tribune, where she covered crime, courts and community and women-related stories. She covered the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco for the Tribune.

“I remember Shirley as very feisty, a woman who would not put up with any nonsense,” said Beverly Friend, a professor at Oakton Community College. “In her early journalistic career, she and my late sister-in-law Selma Hayman were ambulance-chasers who ‘always got their story.’ Many years later, she became an officer of the Friends of Literature, noted for its monthly literary lectures in the Walnut Room of Marshall Field’s and their very elaborate annual Shakespeare’s birthday banquets at the Bismark Hotel bestowing awards.”

In the late 1950s, Shirley married Joseph Haas, a reporter and book editor for the Chicago Daily News. The couple had two children.

In the 1960s, Ms. Haas wrote a weekly children’s book column that ran in the Daily News’ Panorama section under her maiden name Shirley Lowry.

After her husband died from a heart attack at a downtown swimming pool, Ms. Haas worked in former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s press office, for the City Office for Senior Citizens as director of community education, as the Chicago Public Library’s chief of public information and as a public relations staffer for the Chicago Health Department.

She also was an editor for Rand McNally when the company had a textbook division and published books for children, said Joanne Koch, an author, playwright and screenwriter who is the director of the graduate writing program at National Louis University.

In 1987, Ms. Haas co-founded the Fiery Clock Face at 5311 N. Clark St., which was open until 1995. The shop got its name from a traditional Celtic fiddle tune that was a family favorite.

“I fondly remember the bookstore she owned with her sister,” said Robert Remer, publisher and editor-in-chief of the former Chicago Books in Review and a former Chicago Public Library deputy commissioner. “I was a Saturday morning regular. She and her sister collected a lot of books on Chicago history, and they always had unique bookends and book-themed knickknacks for sale. They helped boost my interest in Chicago literature, which eventually led to Chicago Books in Review.”

Ms. Haas was a longtime member of the Society of Midland Authors, and in 1995 the organization awarded her its “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

“Shirley brought not only her experience as a great children’s writer to the Midland Authors but her years as a book editor as well,” said author Jim Schwab, a former Midland Authors president. “This combination provided her with both interesting insights into the authors’ world and a wealth of anecdotes and inside wisdom.”

In 2012, Ms. Haas was featured in a Chicago Sun-Times story headlined “Why are some 80-plus-year-old seniors as sharp as people 30 years younger?”

Ms. Haas, who at 87 participated in exercise and memoir-writing classes and weekly conversations led by a University of Chicago professor about such topics as Hemingway and French New Wave cinema, told the Sun-Times then: “I like martinis. But I only have one before dinner if I go out to dinner.”

Even at that age, Ms. Haas vacationed every summer at her Canadian summer home, which lacked running water and electricity. She had to take a boat to get there.

“My motto is keep moving,” she said.

She is survived by her son Jaime, her daughter Wendy Jocelyn, two grandsons and three step-granddaughters. A celebration of life will be held at 10 a.m. April 23 at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago.

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