The Irreplaceable Hazel Barr
The Duchess by Rosemary Fanti.
Written by Megan McKinney
Illustrated by Rosemary Fanti
She was a star, the self-styled Hazel, Duchess of DuPage. Gifted with the height—5 feet, 10 inches in stocking feet—and figure of a runway model, she was able to wear fashion brilliantly—and did. With her elegant form, theatrical movements and stunning wardrobe of striking jewelry and attire, everyone in the room was aware of the presence of Hazel Barr. And the life of each individual around her was enhanced by that presence.
Another depiction of Her Grace by Rosemary Fanti.
When Hazel left us at 2:45 on the morning of Friday, June 29, an emptiness was created that can never be filled. That’s easy to say and often is. But in Hazel’s case, it’s true. She was matchless, irreplaceable. She possessed a combination of theatricality, warmth, kindness and unparalleled generosity—offset by a touch of the imperiousness and narcissism that lurks in so many of us. In Hazel, the mix was unique.
She was exhilarating to be with, reaching out to grasp your wrist with those long elegant fingers as she talked excitedly. Warmth/theatricality. But then you realized what she was talking about was You. She had the most marvelous idea for a new job that only You could fill. Imperiousness/ generosity. Furthermore, she would arrange for the interview and would accompany you on it. Pure kindness and generosity.
Hazel third from left with her lunching ladies at Crickets in the late 1980’s.
What I’m talking about is not hypothetical. I watched this or something like it happen time after time. It even happened to me after the magazine for which I was editor had ceased publication. One day, Hazel looked across the table at me during one of the monthly ladies lunches at which we were both regulars. “You should have a column. Let’s see . . . ”
A few weeks later, she and I were having “a smart cocktail”—as only Hazel would say about an ordinary glass of white wine—with the editor of the hot new magazine in town.
Within another month, I had a column, a column I wrote for the next 10 years, a column that changed my life for a time. Of course, it didn’t hurt hers either. Hazel adored publicity and she certainly got it with me from then on. You’re reading this, aren’t you?
Photo credit: Maria Ponce.
Hazel at Table #68 in RL with the late Bunky Cushing. His Bunkettes succeeded the Crickettes as the city’s major group of lunching ladies.
Then, there was the time I found myself chairman of a brand-new benefit. For literacy. Not a soul wanted to pay money at the beginning of a beautiful summer to support a new benefit nobody had ever heard of—for literacy. This was not inner-city literacy, it was literacy for grown-ups. A college graduate, across-the-pond brand of literacy. Just when I was thinking, why couldn’t it be about saving lives or dealing with bipolar issues, I saw Hazel once again looking at me at a lunching ladies table.
I should interject here that one of Hazel’s favorite phrases was “Be There!” When Hazel wrote those two words on an invitation, you were there. No excuses!
She had that Be There! look on her spectacular face that day as she slowly gazed around the table one-by-one at each of our lunching companions and then said, “Megan has never asked any of us for anything and she isn’t now. Be There!”
Eight women times two—a husband or date for each—adds up to two full tables. The party was a success, barely, and eventually became one of the staples of the annual Chicago social season. Thank you, Your Grace.
But Hazel’s life was not merely ladies lunches and the extravagant charitable benefits she regularly staged. She had a family–and her beloved husband, Warren, with whom she spent richly significant time.
Warren and Hazel Barr.
When Hazel was honored by The Service Club of Chicago at the Peninsula in August 2016, her family gathered to applaud her.
Hazel and Warren Barr on the Peninsula Chicago Terrace with some of their children and grandchildren, from left, Bob Barr, Justin Smith, Maggie Barr, Alexander Smith, Hazel and Warren, Chelsea Smith and Holly Barr.
Just a few minutes ago, I received an email message from Bob Barr, one of Hazel and Warren Barr’s three children, detailing an important side of Hazel’s life. His exact words follow in italics:
ANOTHER SIDE OF MOM
Well…many tributes to Mom. We are so grateful. But…there is another side.
Mom would surely appreciate if you read this. In fact, she would demand it…in her “special” way.
I remember summer days, under a hot sun, with her headband, gloves, trowel, khaki shorts, turning the earth, planting, pruning, sweat on her brow; her herb garden, the petunias that lined our driveway; and today, it is a love I share; with gardens planted all around the house; have renamed all our Hydrangeas, “Heavenly Hazel’s Hydrangeas.”
The love of gardening, beauty, care, appreciation of His creation, thank you, Mom.
Only way to clean a floor, on your hands and knees, scrub brush—and she did, seriously!—and toilets, sinks, carpets, washing dishes, vacuuming (still remember her pushing that big Hoover around)…the smell of Ajax, Mr. Clean, still lingers.
And the necessity of cleaning, the right way, thank you, Mom.
Thanksgiving and Christmas: Man, could she decorate on Christmas…had two trees for a number of years; decorations everywhere; Halloween costumes, and on and on.
And for the love of family and holiday celebrations, thank you, Mom
Rosemary Fanti always captured Hazel’s physical essence as no camera was able to do.
This article began with a discussion of the Duchess’s unique combination of sometimes opposing qualities. The theatricality, along with a dose of imperiousness and narcissism, created immense glamour and excitement —it was a bit like having Gloria Swanson or Marlene Dietrich at the table or next to you in the car. However, the addition of her unparalleled warmth, kindness and generosity made Hazel a supremely beloved and valued friend.
Altogether, it was a fascinating, exhilarating mix, creating the irreplaceable and treasured spirit who will be missed by all of us who loved Hazel every day for the rest of our lives.
Robert F. Carl