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Robert Grossman

Courtesy of the family

Robert Grossman, Hyde Park lawyer and writer, dies at 89

Robert Grossman always thought he could make things better.

“Bob was an amazingly optimistic person,” said Nikki Will Stein, a lifelong friend. “He always thought that if there was a problem he was somebody that could take it on and make it better for you.”

One of the issues that Mr. Grossman chose to take on in his work as a lawyer was affordable housing. He was the principal draftsman of the 1967 Illinois Housing Development Act, which established the Illinois Housing Development Authority to finance affordable housing across Illinois.

But he was also a devoted father, an advocate for Jewish-Christian dialogue and interfaith understanding, an athlete, writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. Mr. Grossman passed away peacefully Saturday with family at his side. He was 89.

“He felt loved and cared for, which I’d like to think is all we really want in the end,” his daughter, Kate Grossman, assistant managing editor at WBEZ, wrote in a reflection on her father.

Mr. Grossman was born on the North Side on Oct. 16, 1934, to Raymond and Frances Grossman. Raymond came to the U.S. from Poland as a young boy. Frances was born in the U.S., but her family came from Kyiv, when it was part of Russia.

Mr. Grossman attended LeMoyne Elementary, Latin School of Chicago and Phillips Academy Andover. He went to Dartmouth, where he was the editor of the student newspaper, and later earned a degree from Yale Law School.

His legal career began in 1961 when Mr. Grossman became a law clerk for Judge Hubert Will — Stein’s father — on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

“My father’s law clerks kind of became extended members of our family,” Stein said, adding that Grossman and his wife, Fran, became like siblings to her over the years.

Will said of Grossman: “first and best combination law clerk, co-author and left-handed shortstop.”

His baseball prowess almost landed him in the big leagues, according to family lore. The legend goes that a scout for the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, had his eye on Mr. Grossman, but his father said he was going to college and didn’t tell Mr. Grossman.

In 1966, Mr. Grossman became the executive director of the Illinois Legislative Commission on Low Income Housing. His work included a complete survey of housing conditions in Illinois for low- and moderate-income people.

He was later outside counsel for the Illinois Housing Developing Authority. He also practiced corporate, communications and real estate law for decades. Some of his major clients included Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable, CBS and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

But Mr. Grossman was perhaps proudest of the family he established, delighting in having his three adult children and six grandchildren live near his beloved Hyde Park community.

“Family was so very important to him, and he took great pleasure in having his children and grandchildren all living near him, gathering regularly and knowing we were here for each other,” his daughter said.

Stein said Mr. Grossman did a good job pushing his children while being very supportive. “He was thrilled that all of his children did things that included writing because writing was very important to Bob.”

Mr. Grossman published numerous non-fiction essays, including one headlined “Opening the Door” in the New York Times Magazine in 1991 about a young man who rang his Hyde Park doorbell in the middle of the night with a tall tale looking for money. In the essay, he shared how he ended up finding a mentor for the young man and tried to help him get his life on track.

In 2011, he self-published a book, “Another Time, Another Land,” a fictional memoir of his time serving in the Navy in Morocco from 1956 to 1958.

His community was Hyde Park and he cared deeply about the area. He was chairman of the Hyde Park Conservation Community Council from 1982 to 1998. The board advised the city on development and rehab on all renewal sites in the community as the city implemented the Hyde Park-Kenwood Conservation Plan.

Mr. Grossman could talk to anyone and be comfortable in any room, skills he used while supporting independent Democratic candidates over the years, including hosting an early coffee at his home for Barack Obama when he was running for state Senate.

He enjoyed travel and loved a good meal, Stein said. “He was always smiling.”

Mr. Grossman is survived by his wife, Fran; three children and their spouses; and six grandchildren.

A memorial is planned for Friday at 10:30 a.m. at KAM Isaiah Israel, 5039 S. Greenwood Ave., in Hyde Park.

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