A Farewell To Roger Ebert
Photo Credit: S & A
Features

A Farewell To Roger Ebert

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It was an appropriately gray, overcast and rainy day this

morning for the funeral of beloved film critic Roger Ebert, held at the Holy

Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago.

Many people were lined up outside the church (several, since

last night, which was marked with heavy rain) just for a chance to pay their respects

and say a final goodbye to someone who they considered one of their own, or as whom

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn called, a

“true

populist”.

The cathedral was packed with hundreds of people, including the Ebert family, his wife Chaz,

step-daughters and step-grandchildren, and other family members, dignitaries,

filmmakers, such as Gregory Nava (El

Norte, Selena, Why Do Fools Fall in

Love?), who gave a tribute, and Steve

James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters),

as well as politicians, VIPs, and people from local and non-local national media, and just plain regular folks.

The service itself was a solemn Catholic Mass (as Michael Kutza the founder and director

of the Chicago International Film

festival whispered to me: “C’mon, You’re going to be Catholic today”), and though Ebert himself was admittedly a non-practicing Catholic, people spoke

of the common spirituality and search for redemption that he found in films and

religion.

Among those who gave tributes, aside from Governor Quinn, were Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and former Sun-Times publisher John Barron, who said that, above all Roger was “a newspaperman.”

Barron also remarked how Roger was way ahead of the curve

in the use of technology, the first person he knew to use a computer, e-mail

and even becoming a Twitter fanatic, and how it would change the face and scope

of journalism: “Roger was 24/7 before anyone had even thought of that term.”

Others who spoke included one of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s sons, Jonathan, who first conveyed his father’s words of support and prayer to Ebert’s family,

and then spoke from the heart, praising Roger for his

unwavering support for black cinema. “I look at Roger as a soldier with a pen… He respected

what we had to say about ourselves.”

Jackson also read a letter from Spike Lee who conveyed his condolences to Ebert’s family, and thanked

Roger for all the years of kind reviews, and the unwavering support he gave

Spike throughout his career as a filmmaker.

Sonia

Evans, one of Chaz’s daughter and Roger’s step-daughter, in

her tearful address, talked about Roger as the loving and devoted family man

she knew and loved: “He always saw such special things in people. He realized connecting

with people is the main reason we’re here.”

But it was Chaz herself, who received two standing

ovations, and who decided, at the last moment, to say a few words, that was the emotional

high-point of the funeral, giving a heartfelt, joyful and, at times, funny tribute

to her late husband.

Full of humor, she remarked how Roger “would

have loved this. He would have loved the majesty of it. He would have loved

everything about it. He would have loved that we’re all here for him.”

But, as she reminded the gathering, not only was

Roger a film critic, but “a soldier for social justice,” adding that “no

matter your race, creed, color or sexual preference, he had a heart big enough

to accept and love all.”

At the end, despite the emotional outpouring of fond memories

and tearful remembrances, the funeral itself was far from a sad and joyless

occasion. It was instead a loving farewell to a special person who lived a rich

and full life, and whose undying passion for films, writing about films and for life

itself, transcended any grief and joy.

And when the funeral was over, the sun came out.

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