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Tributes to James Tyree: ‘My friend, my hero, my brother by choice’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Thousands of folks — from powerful politicians and businessmen to college buddies and boyhood pals — streamed into Old St. Patrick’s Church Monday to remember the life of Chicago Sun-Times Chairman James Tyree, “the most ordinary, extraordinary guy you could ever meet.”

“He was known as a regular guy, the dude of dudes,” his friend and business partner, Mesirow Financial CEO Richard Price, said. “My friend, my hero, my brother by choice. There is and never will be anyone quite like him.”

Tyree, 53, died Wednesday as the result of a medical accident while being treated for stomach cancer and pneumonia. At times during the day, the line of mourners waiting to pay their final respects stretched out the church doors.

“Today was an expected turnout for an unexpected circumstance,” said Michael Barrett, Tyree’s childhood friend and business associate. “Jim always brought people together. Jim put 100 years of life into his 53, and he touched a lot of lives.”

Tyree’s friend Tom Finn told mourners it was always clear, even back when they grew up together in Beverly, that Mr. Tyree was special.

“He was smarter than us. He worked his butt off. When you were with Ty, you just fed off his positive attitude whether you were the president or the janitor,” Finn said. “Despite all of his success, he never changed. It never went to his head. He was still Ty, a regular guy.”

Finn choked up a bit during his eulogy, addressing Tyree’s wife, Eve, and his children, Jessica, Joseph and Matthew.

“Eve, he was so into you. He loved you to the core,” Finn said, and then addressed the kids. “His greatest job was being your dad. He was so proud of you. He talked about you all the time.”

The Rev. Scott Donahue, Tyree’s friend of the Mercy Home for Boys And Girls, talked about Tyree’s love for all children and his unwavering support of Chicago youth.

Every time he would try to thank Mr. Tyree for his support of the Mercy Home, Father Donahue said he received the same response: “Anything for the kids, father.”

Tyree’s brother-in-law Christopher Slusarczyk said Tyree had just enjoyed the best summer of his life last year “because he got to spend so much time with Eve and the kids at Long Beach,” where they had a summer home.

The funeral service opened with a jazzy saxophone rendition of the Earth Wind and Fire song, “Shining Star,” which Tyree often sang at office parties, despite lacking a “particularly good voice,” Price said.

Tyree was known for his deep baritone that filled the room — sometimes, too much. Finn said he called Tyree, “Dr. Bellows” because “he had one volume: loud.”

Not too long ago, Finn and Tyree were having lunch at a restaurant when “a woman three tables away came over to tell him to tone it down,” Finn said during his eulogy.

But it was not the things Tyree said that made him so special, Donahue told those gathered at the historic church, which included Gov. Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Ald. Edward Burke, Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper.

“He was an inspirational leader who taught us by the way he lived his life, how we should live our lives,” Donahue said during the homily.

“It was the love of his family and the support of his friends . . . that sustained Jim and helped him remain forever optimistic and always filed with hope. Jim Tyree was a man who lived in hope. He was a giant of a man. He was a man’s man. He was a gentle man.”

Tyree will be buried today at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip.

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