Louis Materre, longtime South Side businessman, father of WGN anchorwoman
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Louis Francis Materre loved golfing, jazz, history and politics.
The businessman whose family operated well-known paint stores on the South Side for nearly 30 years also loved paying forward his family’s blessings, and sharing his wisdom with others, his family said.
In its heyday, The Materre Bros. Paint & Wallpaper Co. his family operated in the Park Manor neighborhood was a South Side staple, counting high-profile Chicagoans such as boxing legend Muhammad Ali, jazz singer Dinah Washington and baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks among clients.
Mr. Materre, the father of WGN-News Anchor Micah Materre, eventually traded the paint business for insurance, running his Materre Insurance Agency for more than 20 years. He died on April 13 at age 91.
“He had this way about him, this great personality, and people just loved ‘Big Louie.’ You could talk to him about everything, because there was no subject he didn’t know something about,” his daughter said.
As youngsters, Mr. Materre and his two brothers were taught the business by their father, and the three eventually opened The Materre Bros. Paint & Wallpaper Co., which operated from 1954 to 1983. Mr. Materre joined the business after returning from service in the Korean War. Drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952, he was honorably discharged in 1954, and received the Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars.
“Everyone bought paint from the Materre brothers back in the day. It became a community meeting place,” his daughter said.
The store also became a go-to for community support of youth sports. The brothers started a Little League baseball club, the Materre Brothers Blue Jays; sponsored a black ski club, the Ski Twisters; and founded a youth golf club, First Tee, which was registered with the national Professional Golfers’ Association and active for over 50 years.
Mr. Materre met his wife, Vera Jeanne Bradley, in early 1960. And it was instant fireworks. “You know how you see someone, and you say, ‘Oh my goodness,’ and you know this is it?” said his wife of 58 years. “We were married within six months.”
Mr. Materre was the second of three sons of Etienne and Odessa Materre, who followed the Great Migration north from New Orleans, and raised their family in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
Athletic and proficient in sports ranging from ice skating — where he won medals — to bowling, Mr. Materre graduated from Englewood High School, and attended Chicago Teacher’s College before journeying west. While living in Los Angeles in his early 20s, he met many celebrities while parking cars as a valet, including famed gangster Bugsy Malone and actor George Raft.
“That made for quite the stories later in life,” his daughter said.
For several years, Mr. Materre taught interior decorating to students at the Chicago Public Schools’ Dunbar High School at night, while working by day at the store with his brothers.
He eventually left the family business to open his own paint store, then left the business in the late ’60s for a job with Metropolitan Life Insurance. Mr. Materre would later launch his own firm from his home, which expanded to three locations before he retired in 1988.
In retirement, Mr. Materre indulged his love of jazz, golf and traveling, spending winters at his Vegas home, where those three loves intersected in lifelong friendships with jazz legends Johnny Pate and Joe Williams, with whom he played golf in Vegas. Other Vegas golf partners included R&B legend Smokey Robinson.
“He loved golf,” his daughter said. “He loved the game so much you could find him on the links in March with remnants of snow still on the ground. He could put together an awesome foursome that were a force to be reckoned with. But his favorite times on the course were with his sons and his daughter,” said Micah Materre.
Nicknamed “Big Louie,” Mr. Materre was a dapper dresser, a history buff and a political junkie, his family said. People frequently turned to him for the skinny on Chicago politics, and his charismatic personality drew to his sphere both young and old, his family said.
“He never met anyone that didn’t befriend him. Young people felt very comfortable with him. They’d call him ‘Dapper Dude,’ or ‘Mr. Cool.’ He would give them advice, and they just loved ‘Big Louie,'” his wife said. “He’s left us with beautiful memories.”
Besides his wife and daughter, survivors include two sons, Louis Materre Jr., Daryl F. Materre; daughter Gloria L. Materre; six grandchildren and a great grandchild; and his brother, Oscar.