Ray Zotti, 100, a native of the South Side of Chicago and resident of Oak Park since 1966, died on Oct. 18, 2017, a feat made possible by the patient ministrations of his wife, Mary Irene, his love of the sport of pigeon racing, daily completion of the crossword puzzle and the Jumble, and, in his last years, the devoted attention of his caregiver Nenita Johnson. He produced beautiful drawings and briefly considered a career in art but, deciding there was no money in it and color blind besides, he followed his father, Christian, into railroading, working first for the New York Central System, where he became chief clerk in the master mechanic’s office, and later the Association of American Railroads. A union man to the core, he served for many years as financial secretary of his local of the Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks.
Ray’s lifelong passion, taken up in his teens, was racing homing pigeons, which he kept in a loft in his garage. Taciturn in other matters, he could talk for hours about pigeons, which he considered a metaphor for the human condition. Many in his family owe their knowledge of avian digestive and reproductive habits entirely to him. He and his birds were featured in the Suburban Trib and the Wall Street Journal and on ABC7 News with Frank Mathie. In weekly races, his pigeons came in “first in city” twice; this was among his proudest achievements.
A rehabber long before the term was common, Ray and his wife renovated two homes, the first in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and the second in Oak Park where the couple raised six children. A talented musician, he periodically entertained the family with impromptu piano recitals that invariably concluded with a bravura rendition of “Under the Double Eagle.” He was noted for his stubborn perfectionism, which many of his children inherited, and his bold, attractive handwriting, which most did not.
Ray kept his wits till the end, notwithstanding some off days. Told he deserved a beer after struggling up the front steps with the aid of his sons and grandson following Mary Irene’s funeral in 2015 (she was 93), he said, “Make it two.”
Ray Zotti is survived by his brother, Tom; his children, Ed, Bob, John, Eileen, Peg and Bill; 18 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held at Drechsler, Brown and Williams, 203 S. Marion in Oak Park from 3 p.m. until 8 on Thursday, Oct. 26 with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 27 at St. Edmund Church, followed by interment at Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family appreciates donations to the PCD Foundation, www.pcdfoundation.org.