Farewell to Ebert: big sendoff for a regular guy

I had a genuine opportunity to have a ringside seat for a chapter of Chicago history. I took it. I honestly didn't think I would get into Roger Ebert's funeral. I know a few people who didn't even try. I'm nosy and pushy like my mother, so it's really not in my nature to avoid a really good fool's errand.

Much to my surprise and, yeah, delight, I got in. Let's hear it for nerve and a really big purse. The fact that it was open to the public didn't hurt either. I stride in like the fake somebody I am, and get a seat in the "media reserve" section. Damn skippy I'm with the media. I'll just sit right here.

I don't know why I was taken aback by the full Catholic mass, but his eulogy laid out a life as a passionate Catholic fighter for social justice, as well as a passionate film lover. This guy was richly deserving of the massive pipe organ and the choir singing in Latin. He was, as the kids say, "that guy."

My on-again off-again relationship with my higher power is most definitely off-again, so being dragged back to the multi-genuflecting call and response of the church of my childhood chafed a little. The poor priests were feeling a little out matched at times and would say things like "say it in Roger's name." And we did.

Again, I don't know why I was surprised when Mayor Emannuel strode toward the podium, but it was surprising and fitting, at the same time. The school slayer himself, humbly paying his respects.

"We knew he loved Chicago and Chicago loved Roger," he said in the first non-blustery speech I've heard in a while.

Governor Pat Quinn remembered him as a champion of undiscovered gems of cinema through Ebertfest, a 17 year-old festival in Champaign.

Johnathan Jackson brought regards from his father, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Director Spike Lee, who said, through Johnathan "He saw black children, not as problems, but, as people," And thanked him for his support throughout his career.

There were a few more dignitaries in the audience, and Father Michael Pfleger assisted with the mass, but the eulogy that really stabbed me through the heart was his widow, Chaz.

She admitted she didn't want to speak, but I think she didn't want to be rude, to be a poor hostess at their last "appearance" as a couple. She was wearing a very large and fabulous hat that was clearly annoying her. Suddenly she said "Because he loved this hat!" as if she were explaining to herself why she wore the damn thing in the first place. She got a standing ovation. We're sending good thoughts your way, nice lady. Condolences.

There were a crapload of somebodys at this funeral. More importantly, there were a crapload of nobodys. For down-to-earth Chicago guy and the first film critic to win a Pulitzer, it all made sense.

There's going to be a memorial, open to the public at the Chicago Theater, this Thursday, at 7 p.m. for anyone who want to pay their respects. Go to rogerebert.com for details.

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