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Gloria Grisham, onetime secretary who served on civic boards and helped charities, dies at 87

Mrs. GloriGrisham her wedding day her husbDaryl Grisham president Parker House Sausage Co. large African American-owned business

Mrs. Gloria Grisham, on her wedding day to her husband, Daryl Grisham, president of Parker House Sausage Co., a large African American-owned business

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:27AM

Gloria Grisham drove bronze Cadillacs, shopped at Neiman Marcus and Saks and socialized with Jackie Robinson.

She liked to visit the nightclubs when Lena Horne and Nat King Cole were in town. She was squired by her proud husband, Daryl, the head of Parker House Sausage Co., one of Chicago’s largest black-owned businesses.

But Mrs. Grisham, the daughter of a seamstress and tailor from Jackson, Miss., never forgot the lean years of the Great Depression. She studied for a career that offered security, becoming an executive secretary. She saved rubberbands and paper clips. Wasting food was just wrong, she thought, so she ate everything on her plate.

And Mrs. Grisham believed that African Americans who had “arrived” needed to help the ones still waiting for a lift.

She and her husband served on civic boards and donated generously to charitable causes. They were active with the Chicago Child Care Society, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the NAACP, the Northwestern University Women’s Board, the Rainbow/PUSH Foundation, the United Negro College Fund and the Urban League.

Mrs. Grisham, 87, died March 7 at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

After her parents came north in the Great Migration, they raised Gloria, her three sisters and her brother at 58th and Indiana. They brought gracious Southern traditions with them, welcoming guests with sweet tea and lemonade.

“In the evening, we’d go out and sit on the porch with my father and play double-dutch,” said her last surviving sibling, Jeanne Materre. “We always ate together, and we sang all the time.”

The four girls performed together as the Bradley Sisters Quartet at Pilgrim Baptist Church, where their mother served as a pianist and choir director. They rubbed elbows with gospel legends Thomas Dorsey and singer Mahalia Jackson at the landmark church, where plans are under way to rebuild after it burned down in 2006.

With her beautiful legs, musical voice and her “neat and complete” appearance, Gloria turned heads. After meeting her at a party, Daryl Grisham was so taken with her, he tracked her down in the middle of church.

“I was with my four sisters at a garden party in Morgan Park. I told him I was a member of Pilgrim Baptist Church,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2005. “The next day, at church, someone came up to the balcony and told my sisters there was a gentleman there looking for one of the Bradley girls.”

They wed in 1952.

Daryl Grisham had what people called get-up-and-go. After working in ad sales for the Chicago Defender, he walked into Parker House and said to Mr. Parker, “ ‘I can sell your sausage,’ ” his wife recalled.

He rose to be president and CEO.

Mrs. Grisham attended Du Sable High; Herzl Junior College and business college. She worked for the U.S. Department of Labor and for state Sen. C.C. Wimbish, a pioneer in South Side politics.

The Grishams were among the first African Americans to be members of the Metropolitan Club and the Union League Club, said her niece, WGN-Channel 9 anchor Micah Materre. After she and her husband befriended baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, she grew to love the game — and the Chicago White Sox.

The Grishams appeared at fund-raisers and benefits all around town. Daryl “was disillusioned that many blacks who had risen to positions of prominence and wealth no longer cared about the little man,” she once told the Sun-Times. “Daryl was for the little man.”

The Grishams “supported the good in politics,” former Gov. James R. Thompson said. “Whether the recipients of their generosity were Democrats or Republicans, they looked for the good, and they supported it.”

“They were very positive for the community,” said another former governor, Jim Edgar. “They were very much involved.”

They also appeared at every birthday party, recital, graduation or cotillion for their nieces and nephews.

“They were always there,” Micah Materre said. “I remember in elementary school, I could look out and I would see them.”

Mrs. Grisham kept a home so neat, there was nothing for her cleaning people to do. “It looked like she ironed her towels,” her niece said.

The family joked that she and her sisters were so crazy about bridge, their motto should be: “Bridge before life.”

When they planned her surprise 80th birthday party, the ruse to get her there was a bogus game. “When she walked into the room, all she could say was, ‘Does this mean we are not playing bridge?’ ” said another niece, Gloria Materre.

Mrs. Grisham also was a fan of dancer Derek Hough on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Her family will miss her Jell-O molds, intricate layers of colorful goodness, filled with bananas, black cherries and walnuts.

“Even at Thanksgiving,” her sister said, “They would ignore the cranberries and go to her mold.”

Visitation is from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday, with a funeral service following, at Cage Memorial Chapels, 7651 S. Jeffery.

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