#434: My Cousin’s Cousin: A Goodbye to Andrew Patner

February 4th, 2015

In the spring of 2014, arts writer Andrew Patner and I spent a good three to four minutes figuring out exactly how we weren’t related.

Three to four minutes might not seem like that long, but it is when you’re going back through decades of family trees and tales, trying to remember the names of long-dead relatives you might or might not share.

Patner and I had a cousin in common, one of the ones that makes you try to remember what’s “second” and what’s “removed.” Because of this tenuous connection, the cousin’s partner was convinced Patner and I must be related.

So at the Studs Terkel fest at the University of Chicago last year, the cousin’s partner shooed one of the great modern voices of classical music writing toward me.

Andrew Patner died Tuesday. He was 55.

He was a writer and radio host, a strong advocate of classical music not as a historical relic, but as part of modern life. The Trib, Sun-Times, Reader, Chicago Magazine and WTTW all eulogized him. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra tweeted about being “devastated.” Theaters, musicians, other critics and journalists all took to the web yesterday to share their stories and grief.

He was a rare figure — a critic beloved by the criticized.

We did figure out how we weren’t related, by the way. It involves my late grandmother’s older sister. Not a drop of blood between us, just a few people in common who had me on one side of their family and Andrew on the other.

It’s a very tenuous connection, but I’ll take it. Not as a means of glomming on to celebrity and skill, but because he was kind and funny when we met.

He didn’t need to be kind and funny. He didn’t need to come meet me. He was at the fest to moderate a panel of WFMT personalities who, like him, shared long and affectionate friendships with Studs Terkel. I was trying to sling chapbooks at the book fair.

He greeted me as a friend and potential distant relative just because a person we shared told him to say hi.

That’s the type of person you want to be connected to, no matter how tenuous the link.

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