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Mayor Daley’s chief financial officer, CPS board member

Gene Saffold chief financial officer for City Chicago talks Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board 2009.  |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Gene Saffold, chief financial officer for the City of Chicago, talks to the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2009. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 12, 2012 12:07PM

Gene R. Saffold was a respected banker when he left a 30-year career in the private sector to become the man in the hot seat.

As Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief financial officer, Mr. Saffold grappled with tough questions and choices about Chicago’s budget. He also spent eight years on the Chicago Board of Education, and he helped oversee the teachers’ pension fund.

He came from JPMorgan Chase, where the former mayor’s brother, William Daley, was Midwest chairman. William Daley will be among those paying tribute to Mr. Saffold at a celebration of his life on Thursday.

He died at Rush University Medical Center Monday at 57 following complications from heart surgery on Sept. 27, relatives said.

“Geno” was born in Chicago to Eugene and Doretha Harris Saffold. His mother was a biology major who worked in the water-testing lab of a Chicago filtration plant, and his father worked in public relations for Anheuser-Busch, said Mr. Saffold’s sister, Andrea Kerr.

He grew up in Chicago’s West Chesterfield neighborhood near 95th and King Drive. He was the youngest of four children, and the only boy, which earned him the affectionate nickname “the little prince,” his sister said.

He graduated from Harlan High School and Carleton College. He entered the business track when he was hired at First Chicago Bank, according to his family. Mr. Saffold earned an MBA at the University of Chicago and rose steadily at Smith Barney and First Chicago, which became Bank One.

A merger of Bank One and J.P. Morgan made him one of the most prominent African Americans in banking, his family said. He headed a unit of more than 150 municipal finance bankers.

From 2009 to 2011, he served as the city’s chief financial officer, a challenging assignment amid an economic downturn, pressing city pension obligations and the Cubs push for a Wrigley Field renovation.

In 2010, he acknowledged at a budget hearing that “$650 million a year for the next 40 years” would be needed to return city pension funds to health.

That same year, he defended the city’s 2005 privatization of the Chicago Skyway and its controversial new parking-meter lease deal.

“He was always innovative and forthright in his decisions,” former Mayor Daley said. “He was a great adviser to me but more than that, a marvelous ally and friend who will be deeply missed.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised him as a “man whose success in the private sector was matched by his lifetime commitment to philanthropy and civic engagement. Gene always understood that no matter what our success as private citizens, everything we do is ultimately measured by what we do to advance the public good.”

The many civic boards he served on included the Congo Square Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, WTTW and the Erikson Institute.

“He was just a good listener,” said his former wife, Dr. Carol Wilson Saffold. They remained close, celebrating holidays and taking family trips with their children, Jessica, Christine and Nathan. “Some people just jump to respond or criticize or cut you off. He would always really give you his ear and be patient and think about things before he would respond.”

He was a constant mentor for younger bankers, said Gary Hall, who worked with him at J.P. Morgan and Bank One.

“I am truly indebted to him for his wise counsel and commitment to give to others. It certainly enhanced my career trajectory,” said Hall, an investment banker at J.P. Morgan Securities.

Mr. Saffold liked to play golf and followed all Chicago sports, especially the Bulls.

A celebration of his life is at 9 a.m. Thursday at Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn.

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