This is the third post in the last four that I’m writing about death. My good friend Leanne Star, former coworker and current fellow blogger on ChicagoNow, died unexpectedly over the weekend at age 72.
Three weeks ago I blogged about another friend and former coworker whose death from cancer was anticipated. Leanne’s came out of the blue. As far as her friends know, Leanne had no serious health problems. She exercised diligently, ate healthy food, and paid attention to symptoms.
Our friendship wasn’t surprising, considering what we had in common. Word people, we met in the 1990s as editors in the Northwestern University publications office and had backgrounds as writers. Only five months apart in age, we both had progressive views shaped by coming of age in the late 60s. We shared a love for and knowledge of Chicago, she as a Chicago Architecture Center docent and I as a Chicago Greeter.
A stellar writer and cook and competent in so many areas, Leanne will be most remembered by her friends for her generosity. We all can tell stories of Leanne’s going above and beyond. She gave me a party for my 65th birthday; it was so much fun she repeated it for a couple more birthdays. She helped me celebrate my 70th at a restaurant.
Before I put my former condo on the market, Leanne brought over a sander to repair spots on the hardwood floor. Soon after I moved to my present place, she arrived unbidden to restack boxes so that they would be out of the way until a closet was built. She hemmed my window curtains and shopped for the pole and hooks at Ikea.
When my father died, Leanne made the drive to Joliet for the funeral. The dwarf fern growing on my bedroom ledge was a gift from Leanne after I lost my cat Lizzy last May. The yoga pants I’m wearing as I write this were from Leanne. There were countless meals for which she wouldn’t let me pay, always coming up with a reason she should treat.
Leanne wanted me to go through the Chicago Architecture Center’s docent training with her. I preferred the laidback style of Chicago Greeter but was always happy to be her guinea pig when she rehearsed a new tour. She particularly relished leading the CAC river cruise. She took pride in being able to remember and recite name, style, architect, and date in the short time the boat was in front of a building, and doing it repeatedly for scores of buildings.
Some of my fondest memories will be of the times Leanne and I were joined by our friends Juanita and Roseann. The conversation never lagged, the laughs were frequent. We all looked forward to the annual Yuletide get-togethers Juanita hosted. Leanne, Roseann, and I took monthly three-season hikes in the forest preserves for years. Leanne, leaving an unhappy marriage during that time, said she was grateful for sympathetic listeners. I was grateful to do something for her, since I worried that she gave more than she got.
I am glad that Leanne found love after her divorce; that she saw her three daughters achieve professional success, marry, and make her a grandmother; and that she built the energy-efficient home her architect daughter designed. How she doted on her six grandkids, all under six. She made them exquisite quilts and clever storybooks. When COVID kept her from seeing them in person, she wrote “Doggie Diaries” for them from the point of view of her pets Diva and Dillon.
Five months ago Leanne began her Star Gazing blog on ChicagoNow. I especially enjoyed her three-part series about her hometown of Park Forest. We often emailed one another to comment on a post. After I blogged three weeks ago about my friend Vickie’s death, and two weeks ago with thoughts about mortality, Leanne emailed me to validate my feelings. The second post was headlined “Do what makes you happy.” What Leanne did in recent years brought her happiness, but I wish it could have lasted longer.