By Allen Rafalson
There is always sadness when you lose longtime friends. I lost two. As you get older, you keep on reading the obituaries daily and wonder who’s next. The sun has set on Thanksgiving Day and all of us now look forward to the Christmas holidays and celebrating the New Year. It will be lonely times for me inasmuch as I will miss their banter and, above all, kindness and the warmth they exuded continuously.
Columnist Ann Gerber, 90, and Ed McElroy, 91, passed away recently. Both died of heart-related problems. Gerber was presented our Chicago Journalists Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. The year before, McElroy was honored for his 50 years as a member of our organization.
Gerber was raised on the city’s North Side, attending Senn High School and later Wright Junior College and Northwestern University. At 16, she began writing for the Lerner Newspapers chain .That was just the beginning of her meteoric rise as a journalist. By 1950, she began working as the chain’s gossip columnist, eventually becoming the editor of Lerner’s Skyline newspaper, which was launched in the 1960s and covered the Near North Side.
I first met Ann after leaving the corporate comforts of Kraft Foods’ headquarters in Chicago -where I was editor of an award-winning international employee magazine- to become a public relations consultant, eventually opening my own agency. My clients varied and included politicians, health- care companies, community and corporate relations and real estate developers, among others. Soon learned if you wanted a column note about your clients, Gerber was a must-read! I immediately introduced myself. It was the beginning of an enduring friendship.
Lerner Newspaper reporter Felicia Dechter called her “ A dear friend and mentor, and underneath that tough exterior was one of the most generous and caring persons. She was sharp as a tack and loved nothing more than a juicy story. She was the ultimate gossip queen.”
McElroy was a Chicago legend. He was a publicist, someone I had also known for many years. He was a patriot. Ed served with the U.S. Air Force during World War Two.. During the past several years, I had frequently been a guest on his CAM television talk shows, which emanated from Chicago and Homewood locations.
He claimed his longevity was due to the fact he was a man who never smoked, drank alcohol or even coffee, a far cry from the group of reporters I hung around with at dozens of watering holes.
In his tribute to McElroy, Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg wrote: “Ed McElroy was the living embodiment of the city of Chicago and its history for most of the last century .But more than that, he was a good man, hard – working and decent. Certain in his faith and family, devoted to his wife Rita and their children and grandchildren, reliable to his friends and colleagues. He helped countless judges, politicians, and government servants navigate the labyrinth of public life.
“ Ed not only knew you, he knew your father and he would share moments that happened 60 years ago as clearly as they happened yesterday. He knew the streets And he did. Ed grew up in Visitation Parish during the Depression. He was no cream puff to the very end. He was truly the last of a tremendous generation.”
On July 19, 2015, his close friend, Alderman Ed Burke, honored McElroy with a Constable of Chicago award. This came about one day prior to his 90 birthday. In making the presentation Burke said, “Ed knew the name of every crossing guard, traffic aide and police officer,” exaggerating only slightly.
Farewell my friends, rest easy.