Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Remembering Andrew Patner

My friend Andrew Patner died one year ago today at the impossibly young age of 55. He was a pitch-perfect cultural critic and fine writer.

Over time his intelligence brightened and deepened, and his knowledge of everything: music, literature, politics, race, religion, his beloved native city of Chicago – EVERYTHING – expanded, along with his natural ability to be reflective.

The author of an imaginative study of the radical journalist I.F. Stone, host of a wide-ranging radio show, “Critical Thinking,” on WFMT-Chicago, and producer and host for Chicago’s NPR affiliate, he wrote about the arts for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than two decades.

Andrew definitely knew how to stir the pot. He was a superb interviewer. With his persistent curiosity, intuition, and understanding of social problems, his work evoked that of his friend, Studs Terkel.

Unfortunately, for various reasons he and I had not been in close touch for many years. I’ll regret that forever.

But thankfully and happily, I remember the moment Andrew first stepped into the office of the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago. It was September 1978. That year the paper felt particularly reinvigorated. 

We ran more investigations, hit the administration harder, expanded coverage of arts, literature, and sports, and increased space for serious issues in the surrounding community. Of course, our masthead was one-quarter of the size of most that appear on campuses today.

Now here came Andrew, who had grown up in Hyde Park. His perspectives on the neighborhood, university, and city were astonishing. It was always worth talking to him about a hunch or a story; well, really about anything.

He had an elegant generosity. He shared ideas and insight, bestowed encouragement and praise, and made time for rumination, speculation, and, perhaps most delightfully, debunking.

He and I shared a wistfulness about having been born too late for the student movement of the 1960s. Along those lines, we pored over volumes of old newspapers crammed on the office shelves, and pried our way through dusty wooden file cabinets looking for photos of the action we missed. We talked about the past. And we even got up close to some of the people who were deeply into the scene.

Since the twenties, the Maroon office had been located on the top floor of a neo-Gothic hall that resembles, as a university PR officer once wrote, “a Tudor English manor house.” One entered the building through a cloistered courtyard, perhaps bought a cup of coffee at the bakery on the first floor, and hurried upstairs. Someone was always there, perhaps even banging out a paper for a class.

We had no thought that the worn oak desks and chairs, floorboards that lost their varnish years earlier, manual typewriters, and an endless supply of yellow copy paper would someday not be there. Maybe we hoped for a few electric typewriters. But who could imagine that the newspaper wouldn’t always come to life in this perfect office with leaded casement windows and ivy that occasionally crept under the sill?

Now it’s all computerized and located in the basement.

But in my mind’s eye, Andrew stands in that faraway room; 19 years old, caught in the afternoon light, turning toward us, starting to smile, starting to speak. 

Drawing by Claudia Keenan

1 comment:

  1. Very sweet.... sorry for your loss. Anyone who can make an impression like that on YOU of all people must have been very special.


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