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Harry A. Root Jr.

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Harry A. Root Jr. Obituary
Root Jr., Harry Arthur Gentleman and scholar of 18th C. English ceramics, died of leukemia at the Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter in Glenview, Illinois on Monday, November 12, 2012 at the age of 86. He is preceded in death by his life-long partner, Curtis Chapin Palmer, and their three dachshunds, Heidi, Gretchen and Hilda. He is survived by two sisters, Beatrice and Margaret, and an extended, multi-generational family of close friends. Born to Harry Arthur, Sr. and Margaret Root on March 24, 1926 in East Providence, RI, Harry moved to Chicago with his family at the age of two. He recently reflected on his early life stating, "I came from a poor family. I grew up during the depression. My dad didn't have a job for five years. We were not sophisticated people and I certainly was not what you would call polished." Harry credited his late partner Curtis with contributing significantly to his development. "Curtis came from a wealthy and educated Chicago family. In a sense, we were from different planets. He had to teach me basic things like how to set a table. Over time, he taught me how to be a gentleman." They built a loving life together in their Highland Park, Illinois home, creating a remarkable environment, with gardens that expressed a fascination for both formal structure and lush wilderness. The house itself evolved in size and style, as it filled with evidence of Harry's travels, his love of ceramics, art, and his innate curiosity. "I'm a curious person," he acknowledged. "I always have to be learning new things. Even now. Especially now." During WWII, Harry served as a radio operator for General George S. Patton and was in the first reconnaissance unit of American soldiers who discovered the horror of Buchenwald concentration camp. What he experienced in war had much to do with the sensitivity and integrity with which he approached all aspects of his life from then on. It seems fitting that he stood guard outside the doors of the Nuremberg trials, and silently led the riderless horse in Patton's funeral procession. Upon returning from the war, Harry graduated from Northwestern University, completed an MBA at the University of Chicago, and enjoyed a successful career at Marshall Field and Co., retiring as Senior Vice President and General Merchandising Manager in 1984. He shared his knowledge of fashion merchandising with students at various schools, including Roosevelt University in Chicago. His love of music and performance made him a generous and long-time supporter of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He served for many years on the Board of Directors of the American Ceramics Circle, and he was actively involved with the Art Institute of Chicago as a member of the Antiquarian Society; for the past 15 years, he volunteered in the European Decorative Arts Department. Over the years he gifted a number of unique ceramics to the Art Institute's collections, and in 1991, he assembled some of his beautiful pieces for a public exhibit titled "18th Century English Pottery: Selections from the Collection of Harry Root, Jr." For many years Harry was also a tireless volunteer at Howard Brown Health Center, helping others in great and small ways that will not be forgotten. Harry loved to walk; a few miles round-trip to the grocery store, or in the company of a small group striding across Tuscany, Provence, or Wales. Walking the outdoors deepened his connection to nature and the various people he met along the way. An old friend said, "Harry was truly a Renaissance man. His world wide friendships were as diverse as his imagination, and he shared his wealth of knowledge and his love unstintingly." There is a story Harry occasionally shared about his fear of dying during the war. In a moment of terror, he made a pact with whatever god was listening. If he survived, he promised he would embrace honesty, generosity and curiosity as the foundations of his life. He lived a long and full life, and those who knew him would agree that he kept his part of the bargain. Harry A. Root, Jr. was cremated and interred at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. http://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/abrahamlincoln.asp. A memorial is planned for March 2013. Donations honoring the memory of Harry A. Root, Jr. can be made to the following institutions: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Chicago Botanic Gardens; Defenders of Wildlife; Lambda Legal Defense Fund; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; or the Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter in Glenview.
Published in Chicago Sun-Times on Dec. 23, 2012
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