If you're not from the Chicago area, you probably never heard of John Calloway, who passed away yesterday. He was a fixture on Chicago-area television for decades, particularly with WTTW, our public television station.
I was surprised to hear that he was from West Virginia, and not Chicago-- he was a Chicago guy through and through. For years, he did fascinating features on Chicago-related stories. The one I remember most is the feature he did a few years back on the tragic 1958 "Our Lady of Angels" fire (I did a post last year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the fire).
I had two run-ins with John Calloway in my life. The first was in 1980, when Calloway moderated a debate at Triton College about nuclear power, between Ralph Nadar and a representative from the Commonwealth Edison electric company. Calloway was, as always, genteel, erudite and elegant, despite the debate becoming heated. The second encounter with Calloway was face to face; I waited on him at Nida's/The Smokehouse, a BBQ restaurant I worked at in the '90's (he sat at your table, Lulu!).
Having worked as a server on and off for 29 years, one of the things I've learned is that it tells a lot about a person, whether they're polite to people they don't have to be polite to. Calloway was exactly as he seemed on the television-- gracious and pleasant, completely unfazed by the fact that he was a local celebrity. He was the real deal-- a guy who really was as nice as he seemed to be.
Mr. Calloway leaves a large body of work; many of the features he did are available on DVD now. I'm saddened by his passing, but glad he told a little of Chicago's story, and glad that I got to meet him.