Hazel Barr, a society maven who presided over philanthropic events and fashion shows for decades, has died. She was 89.
“Hazel was Chicago’s answer to Carmen [Dell’Orefice],” said Service Club of Chicago President Tracey Tarantino DiBuono, a colleague and friend who volunteered with Barr at Chicago’s oldest women’s charitable organization. “She personified elegance, grace, philanthropy, and fashion.”
Barr for years was a fixture on the society scene, holding court in billowing blouses and dramatic jewelry, and lunching at the clubby RL restaurant with her late friend Bunky Cushing and numerous girlfriends. People referred to them as the “Bunkettes” or the “Bunky Bunch.”
Barr also worked as an event planner before it was vogue. There were fashion shows, fundraisers, and parties. Oh, the parties. You knew you had arrived in Chicago if you were invited to one of Barr's events. She was an expert at setting the mood—whether it was finding the right band (Stanley Paul’s Orchestra, of course) or dictating the decorations. There wasn’t a table setting in the house that didn’t get the once-over from Barr.
For nearly 20 years, Barr and her friend Myra Reilly organized the popular Day in the Country event that benefited the Service Club, which funds the needs of nonprofits around town. The party was held at the Duchossois family’s Barrington estate until Barr eventually brought it to the city. “She said, ‘We’re finished with doing things in the country, darling. Let’s move it to the Peninsula [Hotel],’” said Reilly.
They rebranded the event as Day on the Terrace, and until 2016 Barr chaired the annual fashion show, which features nearly 100 local society dames and a handful of men strutting down a runway in fabulous designer gear.
“She was a force of nature. She was grand and gracious and I can’t imagine the world without her,” said Reilly.
Barr could also be opinionated—or endearing, depending on how you looked at it—when it came to style, protocol and decorum. If your hanky was polyester, Barr would send a linen one for your birthday. If you didn’t have two layers of lipstick, she’d pull out her own and add some.
Barr was strong-willed, too. When her husband’s career fell on hard times, Barr continued to live a five-star lifestyle.
She took jobs first working at a furrier in town, then planning events for the Cook County Treasurer’s office.
“She was etiquette with a capital 'E,'” said Treasurer Maria Pappas, who also appreciated Barr’s ability to pull together events and make the office feel like a community.
“She was good at doing anything that involved people—not to mention that she talked to every employee every day and told them how to straighten up their lives.”
Barr grew up in Oak Park and attended boarding school before going on to Northwestern University. After college, she tried her hand at acting and modeling in New York City before returning to Chicago. She married businessman Warren Barr and they raised their three children in Hinsdale.
“She was there for every event. I remember her being a timer at swim meets and shuttling us all around,” said her son, Bob Barr. “She expected the best.” And she gave her best, too.
Services will be private.