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Remembering Former Chicago Publisher John Carroll

A former Chicago editor celebrates his friend and colleague

John Carroll  Photo: Maria Ponce

John Carroll, who helped Chicago magazine thrive during the 1990s and into the new millennium and who took and shared a boundless joy in the pleasures this city offers, passed away this week at 59 after a lingering illness.

It would be wrong to call John a sybarite—he labored too hard and cared too passionately about the magazine’s success for that—but he enjoyed the finer things, a characteristic that made a perfect confluence with his job. He was ad director and then publisher here until 2004, which meant he was in charge of selling advertising. Because many of the main advertisers for a city magazine such as Chicago are luxury products and services, John came to know that world.

He dressed impeccably, often in bespoke suits from Hickey Freeman, graced by a Zegna tie. Too excited to keep the attire to himself, he would invite colleagues to run their fingers along the sleeves of the fine Italian fabric. He eagerly visited the showrooms of the city’s high-end car dealers, and returned to the office reeling with affirmations of the sleek styling and cushiony rides. More than anything, John savored the glories of good food and wine, a love that coincided with the blossoming of Chicago as a world epicenter of great dining.

John grew so passionate about food, in fact, that he developed into an accomplished chef. He became a friend and acolyte of Charlie Trotter, and on weekends sometimes John would work in the kitchen at Trotter’s legendary namesake restaurant.

The skill came to good use in selling ads. John’s former colleague, Deborah Chapman, recalls once flying with him to Dallas, where they were trying to close a deal with Neiman Marcus. To her astonishment, John packed his knives and his mandoline. “At the time, I didn’t even know what a mandoline was,” says Deborah of the gourmet food slicer. John commandeered the kitchen of Roger Tremblay, an ad-sales rep in Dallas, and—dressed in white apron and chef’s toque, Tremblay recalls—John prepared a luscious meal for the guest of honor: the woman in charge of advertising for Neiman Marcus. The ad deal went through.

John sampled and partook of these various luxuries without turning haughty or elitist. In that sense he was an everyman—or, better yet, a reporter, bringing back lively dispatches to the rest of us. Every now and then, he would hold meetings with the advertising staff in the conference room across from my office, and time and again I would hear the meetings erupt in laughter.

During all the years John worked at Chicago, I was the editor, and in the typical magazine structure the editor and ad director occasionally butt heads. Their interests usually coincide, but not always. I used to say that John and his team made the money and I spent it. So every now and then John and I had our differences, but within seconds his face would brighten, his eyes light up, and he typically would start recounting his latest sumptuous adventure.

Recently, John’s Facebook friends had noticed that his passion had found a fresh focus: his new granddaughter, Lily, featured in countless postings.

That’s the John so many of us will remember—eager to share the joys of life.

Richard Babcock was editor of Chicago from 1991 to 2011.

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