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A Farewell To Roger Ebert

A Farewell To Roger Ebert

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

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
, Selena, Why Do Fools Fall in
), who gave a tribute, and Steve
(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
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

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.

, 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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