Fire lieu­tenant had bar named for him

Chicago Sun-Times - - REMEMBERING - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL Staff Reporter Email: mod­on­nell@sun­ Twit­ter: @sun­time­so­bits

When fam­ily or friends came over for a visit, Jim McNa­mara would say, “Let’s turn off the TV, and let’s talk.”

He ap­pre­ci­ated life’s lit­tle glo­ries, like still hav­ing friends from St. Mel’s parish he knew since be­fore kinder­garten.

The re­tired Chicago Fire Depart­ment lieu­tenant liked to play air trom­bone to cel­e­brate a touch­down while watch­ing the Bears at McNa­mara’s, the bar-restau­rant his daugh­ter named af­ter him.

“He would lead a march up and down the bar, singing ‘Bear Down,’ ” said T.C. Heaney, his daugh­ter and owner of the pub at 4328 W. Irv­ing Park.

In his fi­nal days, when he had trou­ble breath­ing from the smoke and as­bestos in­haled dur­ing a 33year fire­fight­ing ca­reer, he kept his nurses laugh­ing. They put up a sign in his hos­pi­tal room with an ab­bre­vi­a­tion ex­plain­ing he had “Short­ness of Breath.”

“Do you have to call me an S.O.B.?” he joked.

To a neigh­bor girl with cere­bral palsy, he was a hero. Dur­ing the Bliz­zard of ’ 79, his car got stuck in the snow while he gave her and some other kids a lift.

“He lit­er­ally car­ried her into the house,” said an­other daugh­ter, Ann Bur­ton. “He car­ried her a third of a block.”

An­other time, when the girl had to check into the hos­pi­tal, “He told her, ‘ We’re go­ing to ring the bell on the firetruck when we go past, and you’ll hear it, and we’ll think of you,’ ” Ann Bur­ton said. “She said that helped her so much.”

At 12, af­ter his father died, young Jim al­ways set his alarm for mid­night. He’d get up and call his Ger­man shep­herd, Moses. Then, they walked to the fac­tory where his mother worked to es­cort her home in the dark­ness at the end of her shift.

“They were like the clas­sic West Side Ir­ish fam­ily,” said a third daugh­ter, Irene Shaugh­nessy. “His brother was a cop. My dad was a fire­fighter. Their sis­ter was a nun.”

Mr. McNa­mara, 78, died March 1 at Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter. His doc­tors said he had in­ter­sti­tial lung dis­ease from fire­fight­ing, his chil­dren said.

“He’d go into the burn­ing build- ings, and they weren’t wear­ing masks,” Ann Bur­ton said. “They didn’t have masks in those days.”

His father, Nick, was a fire­fighter. His mother, Mary Ann O’Brien-McNa­mara, was an Ir­ish im­mi­grant from Castle­maine, County Kerry. Jim McNa­mara went to St. Mel’s High and served in the Army.

At the Hol­i­day Ball­room in Jef­fer­son Park, he met his fu­ture wife, County Roscom­mon na­tive Mary Cun­niffe. She loved his twinkly blue eyes.

“I thought he was great,” she said. They mar­ried in 1962. He served much of his ca­reer at the fire­house at Da­men and Grace. He also worked as an elec­tri­cian. They raised their fam­ily in Portage Park and at­tended Our Lady of Vic­tory church.

A prac­ti­cal man, he told his three girls, “I’ll pay for your wed­ding, or I’ll pay for your [col­lege] education. I hope you choose the lat­ter, not the for­mer.”

The McNa­ma­ras’ couch was of­ten the first stop in Amer­ica for many young Ir­ish im­mi­grant rel­a­tives.

“Even though we didn’t have a huge house, we’d make room for any­one” so they could find a job and their foot­ing, Ann Bur­ton said.

He liked boat­ing on Twin Lakes and walk­ing around Portage Park.

Mr. McNa­mara loved any­thing by Johnny Cash, es­pe­cially “Ring of Fire.” He en­joyed watch­ing “Pawn Stars” and the His­tory Chan­nel and Na­tional Geo­graphic TV. He was a fan of Notre Dame foot­ball and his sis­ter’s prune cake. Be­fit­ting a fire­fighter, he had a Dal­ma­tian named Spot.

At McNa­mara’s, he en­joyed Stella Ar­tois beer, T.C. Heaney said. When he said, “I’m ready for my fi­nale,” it meant a night­cap of Scotch and wa­ter be­fore he made his way to the door.

Mr. McNa­mara is also sur­vived by nine grand­chil­dren. Visi­ta­tion is from 2 to 8 p.m. Sun­day at Cooney Fu­neral Home, 3918 W. Irv­ing, with a fu­neral Mass at 10 a.m. Mon­day at Our Lady of Vic­tory Church.


Lt. Jim McNa­mara served 33 years with the Chicago Fire De­part­ment.

FAR LEFT: Jim and Ann McNa­mara with their three daugh­ters.

LEFT: James “Jim” McNa­ma­rawas the un­of­fi­cial greeter at McNa­mara’s on Irv­ing Park Road.

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