He parks his Cadillac and strides, natty in a dark pinstripe suit, into the office of the Bridgeport News, briefing me on the way: the editor’s husband is a fireman, the owner and I share a religion.
“The guy who owns the paper is one of yours,” Ed says. “His father was a friend of mine. Really Jewish too.”
If that seems a startling remark in this day and age, well, Ed is not really of this day and age. The last of the shoe leather publicists, he will be 90 on July 20, a living, working slice of the Chicago way that has somehow escaped the claw of time.
“How many years you and I go back?” Ed asks Janice Racinowski, the weekly’s editor.
“Well, let’s see,” Racinowski replies. “I’m going to be 58 next year. I started when I was 15 going on 16. So, 43 years.”
There is a lot of that with Ed. He knows you, knew your father, sometimes even your grandfather.
I should admit up front that Ed knows me too. He’s my friend, so whether hailing him on his 90th birthday is back-scratching or news, well, I’ll let you decide. But favors to Ed have a way of rebounding well. Last month I went down the Thornton Quarry because Ed asked. The story led the Sun-Times website for most of the day. So was I helping Ed or was Ed helping me? Or a little of both, which is, after all, the Chicago way.
Ed grew up in Visitation Parish. An altar boy, captain of the baseball team. He went to war, then was a radio reporter in the 1950s and 1960s, chatting with everyone from the Rev. Martin Luther King to Jackie Kennedy. He still has a talk show on CAN-TV, and makes the rounds for clients, dropping off photographs of awards dinners, always pausing to chat.
“He’s one of the nicest gentlemen you’ll ever meet,” says Racinowski. ”Fanatstic stories. I love listening to the older stories. ”
Like the two mayors who attended his wedding in 1955, two weeks after Richard J. Daley was elected. Ed knows which way the wind is blowing, but the outgoing mayor was his mother’s friend, so some delicate negotiating was in order.
“My mother came from 31st street and so did Martin Kennelly,” says Ed. “My mother knew him quite well. So Dad Daley gets elected, he’s going to be an usher at my wedding. Then my mother said ‘Edward, Mayor Kennelly has to be at your wedding.’ I said, ‘You know, ma. …’ ‘Edward, the mayor has to be at your wedding.’ ‘OK mother, he’ll be there.’ So we worked it out. Kennelly came to the church and Dad Daley came to the reception.”
By then Ed was announcing six-day bicycle races and lady baseball leagues.
“I used to announce stock car races,’ says Ed. “An editor said, ‘Ed, if you could get a picture I could run it.’ Then I got into more the public relations side.”
Ed makes himself useful. He picks up people in his Cadillac. He’s driven cardinals, ballplayers, several future presidents.
John F. Kennedy was one.
“In 1959 Dad Daley called me, said ‘I want you to go out and pick up the senator from Massachusetts,’” remembers Ed. “I said ‘What’s his name?’ ‘John Kennedy.’ ‘Don’t mean a thing. What’s he look like?’” They ended up on Rush Street for dinner and a few nightclubs.
Barack Obama was another.
“This kid from Hyde Park gets elected state senator,” says Ed. “I’m not paying too much attention to Obama. [State senate president Emil] Jones says, ‘Hey, be nicer to this guy.’”
“So I start being nice to him. I bump into Obama at this party, he’s all alone. ‘Where are you going?’ Home. ‘I’ll drive you home.’ Drive him here, this and that. I took him to some newspapers. Never a foul word. None of that cheap talk. As high class as could be. So I take him one day to Beverly Review.”
“Barack Obama sat in this office right here,” says Bob Olszewski Jr., the Beverly Review’s editor in chief, in the cramped offices at 105th and Western. “Ed came by, wants us to meet this guy. ‘Barry Obama!’ Yeah, whatever. Editors roll their eyes and cringe because you know, a lot of the stuff Ed sends out is PR. But they’re always somebody from the neighborhood or from the area, so I can justify it.”
Ed also stops at the Chicago Crusader at 6400 S. King Drive.
“Ed knows everybody,” says John L. Smith, advertising director. “Everybody in the neighborhood loves Ed. Been one of the few people who come and help every community. He does everything. He helps everybody.”
So happy birthday Ed, 90 years old, still making both a living and friends.
“Ed McElroy is a fine American,” says Olszweksi. “He knows life is about helping others and they’ll help you. … The old-fashioned way. Go meet people. Put the shoe leather in, get to know people, establish relationships. … So there’s a bunch of love out there for this man, I tell ya, a lot of people know him and love him. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”
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