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Remembering Roger Ebert: ‘We love you, Roger, we always will’

MEMORIAL TRIBUTE THURSDAY

A memorial tribute for Roger Ebert expected to draw friends and admirers from Hollywood is planned for Thursday at the Chicago Theatre. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free but seating will be limited and must be reserved in advance by calling (773) 528-7700 or emailing rsvp@ebertpresents.com.

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:09AM



Roger Ebert didn’t just love movies. He loved connecting with people.

Because he understood that life is too fleeting not to share.

So he shared his life — and his gift — with millions through decades of newspaper columns and TV shows and Twitter entries. And on Monday, as Chicago said goodbye to the most American of critics in the most American of cities, Ebert’s life was recalled by his friends, family and dignitaries as something even greater.

He was a newspaperman.

A soldier for social justice with a pen.

And a father, husband and friend with a heart big enough to love and accept us all.

“Roger,” his stepdaughter Sonia Evans began, “I want to thank you for nothing more than for being you. And loving us. And loving the world in such a grand way.

“You gave yourself completely. Genuinely. And we are all forever grateful.”

Ebert, 70, died Thursday in Chicago after a long battle with cancer. He reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years — winning a Pulitzer Prize — and on TV for 31 years. His funeral was held Monday morning at Holy Name Cathedral.

That’s where his wife, Chaz Ebert, elicited two standing ovations as she addressed nearly 1,000 mourners gathered in the church’s elaborate sanctuary.

She told them she hadn’t been sure if she would speak. But listening to her daughter, Evans, she knew her husband “would want me to thank you.”

“He would have loved this,” Chaz Ebert said. “He would love the majesty of it.”

Still, after eulogizing the love of her life as a “soldier for social justice” and a man who “had a heart big enough to accept and love all,” Chaz Ebert conceded she didn’t want to get out of bed Monday morning.

“To tell you the truth,” she said, “I wanted to pretend that this wasn’t the day of his funeral. And then it actually didn’t feel — it felt like he was there with me. And, I think he is here with us.”

To which a man in the sanctuary answered, “Amen.”

Monday began drearily in Chicago, a rainstorm casting a pall over the city before the funeral. Well-wishers lined up outside the church anyway, huddled under umbrellas by 7:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. service.

Gray-gloved pallbearers, including Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, finally brought the casket up the cathedral steps about 9:45 a.m.

Behind them was Chaz Ebert, somber and dressed completely in black, including an elaborate black hat she mentioned during her remarks.

“He liked this hat,” she said to much appreciative laughter and applause. “That’s why I wore it today.”

In his homily, the Rev. John Costello of Loyola University Chicago said he’s convinced from conversations with Ebert that the movie critic “found in darkened places, especially theaters” a God of ironic compassion, overpowering generosity and radical love.

“In that discovery in the darkness, Roger found a Jesus very different from the one he had been handed as a young Catholic child growing up in the heartlands of our great country,” Costello said. “This Jesus was an ironic one with an unquenchable love, even for — especially for — people who betrayed him.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Ebert, born in Urbana, “the most American of American critics in the most American of American cities.” Not only did Ebert keep his home in Chicago, Emanuel said, he “embodied the values of this great city.”

And, like generations of Chicagoans, the mayor said he always needed to know two things before going to a movie: What time does it start? And what does Ebert think about it?

“Roger spent a lot of his time sitting through bad movies so we didn’t have to,” Emanuel said.

Former Sun-Times Publisher John Barron said no one lived the newspaper life better than Ebert. He recounted how Ebert embraced new technology long before his colleagues even realized the industry was changing. He also recalled how Ebert confided after a contract negotiation to friends, “You know, I’m never going to leave the Sun-Times.”

“He never did,” Barron said. “He was a newspaperman.”

Jonathan Jackson offered condolences on behalf of his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He noted how Ebert took black youths seriously in the 1980s — not as problems but as people, he said. And he told the crowd he spoke on the way to Ebert’s funeral with another legend, filmmaker Spike Lee. Lee, he said, sent his own message.

“Roger Ebert was a champion of my work, and other black filmmakers’, in a critical time in American cinema history,” Jackson said, quoting Lee.

Finally, Gov. Pat Quinn remembered Ebert as a “union man” and a “populist.” Ebert, Quinn said, believed society has a duty to take care of those “who don’t have a champion.”

The governor thanked God for Ebert’s “purposeful life.”

“We love you, Roger,” Quinn said. “We always will. Thumbs up.”



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