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Friends and colleagues remember Andrew Patner
by Matt Simonette
2015-02-09

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Andrew Patner, a longtime Chicago critic in print, radio and television, passed away Jan. 3. He was 55.

Cause of death was a sudden bacterial infection, according to his partner, Tom Bachtell. In a Facebook post, Bachtell wrote of Patner's unexpected passing, "Our Andrew is no more."

Patner was active within both in Chicago's fine arts world, and LGBT and Jewish communities, among others. He was a commentator on WFMT radio, and his criticism appeared in Chicago Sun-Times, and wrote for Chicago Magazine, among numerous other publications, as well. He was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2013.

In the days following his death, colleagues, friends and acquaintances spoke of his passing.

"Andrew's voice, keen intelligence and great spirit will be sorely missed at this radio station, which was part of his professional life for many years," noted WFMT General manager Steve Robinson in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tom and to Andrew's family … Rest in peace dear friend. Your many contributions to WFMT and to this community will never be forgotten."

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti said in a statement, "I am very sorry to learn of the passing of Andrew Patner this morning. I had enormous respect for him as a man of great culture and deep humanity. We had a sincere friendship, and his death is a tragic loss to the cultural life of Chicago. My profound condolences to all his family and friends."

Lyric Opera of Chicago Dramaturg Roger Pines said that Patner was the first journalist he met upon arriving in Chicago 20 years ago.

"I was both gratified by Andrew's friendliness and impressed by his breadth of knowledge," Pines said. "There were a few occasions early on when he kindly let me tag along with him at performances—how invigorating it was to compare notes with him! I was always delighted whenever we happened to be sitting next to each other at an event, whether a performance, a press conference or a lecture.

"Of course, I frequently saw Andrew at Lyric Opera performances, at the CSO, and at various Chicago theaters. It seemed that anything worth seeing and hearing, anywhere in Chicago, he made time for—always. … All of us in Chicago are poorer without his propagation of the arts and humanities, his intelligence, his energy, and his passionate belief in the imperishable value of culture to enhance our lives," Pines added.

Patner's Chicago Sun-Times colleague Neil Steinberg said in his column Jan. 4 that Patner's passing was "an unexpected blow to Chicago's cultural scene. It's as if the Water Tower collapsed overnight. Nobody will replace him. Oh, there will be people who will write of music, and host programs. But who will do so with his verve, this enthusiasm, his depth of knowledge?"

Members of the LGBT community paid tribute to his activism, particularly noting the time and energy that Patner contributed to help persons with HIV/AIDS.

Activist Lori Cannon remembered Patner's devotion in caring for his friend and roommate, David Edmonds, who was dying of AIDS in the late 1980s. "Andrew was so helpful at caregiving," she said. "He became an around-the-clock 'brother' to him."

Edmonds was a former lead soloist for the Chicago Children's choir so Patner arranged a private performance before his death in 1990, Cannon recalled.

"The last sound David remembered as he transitioned were these beautiful voices," she said, adding that Patner's devotion to Edmonds' caregiving took a harsh toll on his professional life. He lost his job reporting for the Wall Street Journal because of it.

"But he was invested in doing what was right," Cannon noted. "That's how Andrew's parents raised him and all his brothers. He landed on his feet and found a home in Chicago for his unique and talented comments on the arts and life."

Legacy Project Executive Director Victor Salvo remembered first meeting Patner when the critic first volunteered to facilitate a retreat for the Chicago March on Washington Committee in early 1987.

"It had a transformative affect on the efficiency of a bunch of inexperienced, though well-intentioned, activists," Salvo said. "Andrew offered to do that because he saw the value in our work, to make sure Chicago was represented at the March. The committee took off afterwards and became an award-winning team... all because Andrew cared enough to step up. We went to Washington—and nothing was ever again the same—for us or for Chicago's LGBT community.

"We were part of the same circle of activists who had survived the plague and were still here working on our passions—it was our shared, unspoken obligation to our community because, for some reason, we had been allowed to survive AIDS," he added.

Salvo said he had been looking forward to having Patner take part in a drive to have Leonard Bernstein added to the Legacy Walk.

"To have Andrew be a part of it was going to be so wonderful, so right," he said. "Who knows what will happen now? It has been 20 years since the days when losing a contemporary was commonplace. This brings the finiteness, the mortality, and the preciousness of each of us into clear, crystalline view."

Activist William Kelley reflected, "Andrew's shockingly sudden death means that Chicago and his many friends have lost a brilliant intellect, a multifaceted man of innumerable accomplishments who was as quick to discern talent in others as he was to deploy his own.

"He seemingly never forgot a detail and could tell you who did what and how and with whom, whether it involved politics, the arts, social circles, or history he had absorbed. He was a generous source of information and advice, and his aesthetics were of comprehensive scope and well thought out," Kelley said.

Cannon recalled her first encounters with Patner, back in the early days of Chicago House, where they both volunteered. She noticed that he was quite often impeccably dressed, frequently sporting a seersucker suit and the occasional bowler. "I asked him, 'Andrew, do you think you really connect with your clients, dressed like that?' He answered, 'Lori, I've got to be me.' He always did it his way. He always fought for people who were suffering."

Kelley added, "I had counted on having him around for at least as many more years as I have left, and, along with others who felt likewise, I'll miss him more than I can say."

Earlier coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Critic-Andrew-Patner-has-died/50371.html .


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