In the early 1970s Paul McGrath worked the Sun-Times late shift, when the stories that sent us into the night were either horrible police and fire calamities or big shots making speeches no one remembered 20 minutes later. As I recalled in a 1981 Reader story on McGrath, he had “the right sort of ironic wit for those graveyard hours.”
And for much else his life dished out. Anyone inclined to laugh at life’s absurdities will find plenty of opportunities, but McGrath’s life was uniquely rich with material. We should all regret that McGrath, who died last week at the age of 75, did not write a memoir—if only to let us relive the years 1978 through ’83 as he experienced them. In ’78, during a staff contraction caused by the folding of the sister paper, the Daily News, McGrath was dumped as a Sun-Times reporter. But he knew Jane Byrne a little—he’d done some stories about taxicab medallions when Byrne was commissioner of consumer affairs—and when she launched her totally quixotic race for mayor later that year, he pitched in. And it came to pass that a year after the Sun-Times gave him the boot he was Chicago’s deputy mayor. But the clock keeps ticking, and a few months later he was out of City Hall writing a political/media column for Chicago magazine.
“I knew pretty soon,” McGrath said to me about City Hall, “there was going to be a lot of knifing. And I made up my mind that when that started, I go.”
How quickly did you think the knifing would start? I asked.
“I didn’t think it would be as fast as it was,” McGrath allowed.