Friday, January 17, 2014

RIP Jon Anderson: Writer, publisher, swell guy

Posted By on 01.17.14 at 04:30 PM

Jon Anderson, 1974

Jon Anderson was impossibly handsome and he married a Rockefeller. If there is more to him than that, Chicago wasn't dying to know about it.

The public face of the marriage to Abra Prentice Wilkin, who was descended from John D. Rockefeller, was an early-70s gossip column in the Daily News called "Jon & Abra." To a much smaller public it was the two of them holding court in Riccardo's. One day there was the sight of helicopters lifting I-beams up to their penthouse apartment on Oak Street East Lake Shore Drive when they decided to expand.

And there was The Chicagoan, the magazine Jon ran and Abra underwrote that they launched in 1973 and that was history well before the marriage ended in 1976. It was not the sort of marriage, I suppose, likely to last anyone's lifetime, but one good for spectacular memories.

Jon Anderson died this week at the age of 77 after a long illness. He was a complicated and very serious person. If I'd ever doubted that—and I probably did—those doubts vanished in 1990 when I actually got to know him. I'd run into him on the street shortly after he came back to Chicago from the writers' program at the University of Iowa. We had a long conversation about journalism and higher forms of writing, and I shared his thoughts in a column. One reason he came back, he said, was "to go back through 30 years of clips and figure out what I've done and where I've been and who I've seen and what it means."

Editors at the Tribune read my column. Before Iowa, he'd worked there 11 years. When they discovered he was in town again and available, they hired him back. In conversations with me, he'd construe this as his good fortune and thank me.

According to James Janega's obit in the Tribune, Anderson was tempted to write a memoir, but he decided to let himself be remembered however people chose to remember him. That, in most cases, will be with considerable respect and affection.

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