Jon Anderson, an unflappable Canadian with a shock of white hair, a patrician demeanor and a cheerful facility in French, quickly stood out in 1970s-era Chicago newsrooms marked by chain-smoking reporters, clacking typewriters, hurled invectives and regular trash can fires.
A veteran of five decades in Chicago journalism, Mr. Anderson retired in 2006 from the Tribune, where since 1995 he had written the City Watch column about the everyday people of Chicago.
Mr. Anderson, 77, a loving collector and purveyor of Chicago's delightful odds and ends, died of complications related to multiple myeloma Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Rush University Medical Center.
In a career that stretched back to 1959 in his native Montreal, Mr. Anderson wrote for Time magazine, the Chicago Daily News and the Sun-Times before coming to the Tribune. He wrote a society column for the Daily News with his wife at the time, Abra Prentice Wilkin, a descendant of John D. Rockefeller, and the two went on to start The Chicagoan magazine, which had a short run in the 1970s.
Mr. Anderson was in a book club built around the French author Marcel Proust that counted among its members the late Roger Ebert. He wrote the Tribune's obituaries for Jay Pritzker and Eppie Lederer, known publicly as Ann Landers. Hers was the only obituary he ever shared with a subject before death. She returned it with two marks: A spaghetti stain and, in blue pen, the letters "OK." He kept it in his desk drawer.
The late Studs Terkel knew Mr. Anderson and praised the writing in his essay collection: "City Watch: Discovering the Uncommon Chicago."
"His manner is deceptively simple," Terkel said, "and in that simplicity is something that reaches out and touches you … that understanding of what makes a human being tick."
Rick Kogan, Mr. Anderson's editor at what was the Tribune's Tempo section, said: "For all of his very sophisticated demeanor, Jon Anderson was ever interested in Chicago's gritty underbelly, and the people who populated it. He could write about the most rarefied events, and also about what's happening in the neighborhood street corner."
Longtime Time and Life photographer Art Shay met Mr. Anderson on assignments and recalled introducing him to Nelson Algren in a conversation that quickly devolved into a polite international dispute.
"Jon, as was his wont, defended Canada to him," Shay recalled. "'Treat Canada,' he advised Algren, 'as America 60 years ago.'"
Many years later, said friend Don Rose, Mr. Anderson became a naturalized U.S. citizen, but always kept that matter discreet.
Mr. Anderson came to Chicago as an employee of Time after a stint as the publication's Montreal bureau chief. Thirty years after he quit abruptly in 1966, he explained why: He was disgusted by the coverage, and reaction to, the murders of eight Chicago nurses at the hands of a notorious Illinois criminal.
"Richard Speck and I never met, though I spent an hour one morning in a townhouse at 2319 E. 100th St. that Speck had visited the night before," Mr. Anderson wrote in 1996. "I promptly quit the job that sent me there."
But not before amassing the telling details from the scene of a crime that horrified the nation.
He soon returned to journalism, always with a seeker's curiosity about the human spirit.
"Jon stood out. Not because he was loud, manic and swearing, but the opposite," said Ellen Warren, a reporter who worked with Mr. Anderson at the Daily News and later at the Tribune. "He was so refined amid a band of easily inflamed reporters."
In a typically messy city room, Mr. Anderson was meticulous. His desk was clean, the papers and Zen pebble garden arranged in right angles. As newsroom dress became informal, Mr. Anderson resolutely remained well turned out.
Before his death, he prepared a final gift for his family: A half-inch-thick manila envelope full of memories, instructions and biographical information, said his daughter, the author Ashley Prentice Norton.
Among those papers was an early memory of being with his wife, Pamela Sherrod. "The first time I kissed Pamela, under the 22nd St. 'L' stop, in 2000, the night that was snowing so hard in Chinatown," he wrote.
He had been thinking about writing his memoirs, she said, but abandoned it in a last act of trust.
"He thought it was better for us to remember him in our own way," Norton said. "He typed it out in a memo to me: 'In the motto of my native Quebec: Je me souviens. Go and do likewise.'"
Mr. Anderson's life included one abiding sadness: the 1999 death of his 38-year-old son Jonny to encephalitis caused by a mosquito bite.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Anderson is survived by another daughter, Abra Williams; a son, Anthony; a brother, Derek; and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun