Jim Walsh Sr., a gregarious titan of the Chicago newspaper industry who evenly divided a 40-year advertising career between the Chicago Tribune and Daily Herald, died Thursday at the age of 76.
Walsh, who had been married to his high school sweetheart Nancy for 53 years, remained fit and active since their 1999 retirement to homes in Lake Geneva, Wis. and Sarasota, Fla.
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The Daily Herald's former vice president of advertising was diagnosed with esophageal cancer only three weeks before his death, daughter Kelly Walsh said. Painless during most of its progression, the cancer only made its presence known when her father began having difficulty swallowing, she added.
The 6-foot 6-inch former Michigan State University basketball player had remained so healthy and strong into his 70s that he was able to join a physically grueling 2011 expedition to the jungles of Papua New Guinea to search for missing World War II fighter planes, Kelly Walsh said.
"He lived a very, very full life," she added. "He was a passionate reader and a World War II enthusiast. He believed in the 'Greatest Generation.'"
Walsh loved golfing and the company of the good friends he played with. He was a passionate sports fan, and one of his last pleasures was seeing his beloved Michigan State Spartans' win the Big 10 basketball title over the weekend.
Walsh had worked in advertising at the Chicago Tribune for 20 years before he moving over to the Daily Herald in 1980. His daughter said advertising was his passion.
"He cherished the work relationships that he had," she said. "He was a man who really enjoyed people."
The Daily Herald's Chairman Emeritus Daniel E. Baumann remembered how well Walsh transitioned into a new environment that seemed to suit him perfectly back in 1980.
"Jim came to us as a consummate salesman who moved easily into the role of a great leader and motivator for his staff," Baumann said. "He was a steady hand during turbulent times and a constant supporter of the paper who helped us move from a small suburban daily into a major force in the Chicago media scene. He was a wonderful father and family man and friend. Everyone who knew Jim loved him."
Daily Herald Chairman and Publisher Doug Ray remembered his time with Walsh as one that was transformative for the newspaper.
"Jim and I became corporate officers together in 1984, and I observed first hand his professionalism and commitment to the newspaper," Ray said. "He was the best known of any of us because of his outgoing personality and willingness to work long and hard on any number of initiatives in support of good causes. He served the newspaper and its readers and advertisers so well."
As important as his career and professional friendships were, Kelly Walsh said family was always his most important and proudest accomplishment. He had three sons and three daughters, and by the time of his passing had 11 grandchildren ranging in age from 23 years to one month.
"As big and as strong as he was, you couldn't find someone more gentle around children," Kelly Walsh said. "He loved to bounce children on his knee."
She said her mother, though resilient, is still struggling to adapt to a sudden loss of her lifelong love.
"My mom is about as strong as you can possibly imagine, and devastated as well," Kelly Walsh said.
Services for Walsh will take place back in his longtime hometown of Des Plaines. Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27 at Oehler Funeral Home, 2099 Miner St., Des Plaines, with the funeral Mass to follow at 10 a.m. Friday, March 28 at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 794 Pearson St., Des Plaines.