By DAN HALEY
We met Fred Rogers through Paul Obis. More on that. And for a few of our early years here at Wednesday Journal we shared a giant, expensive CompuGraphic typesetting machine with Vegetarian Times.
That was the magazine Paul and Clare, his first wife, started in their apartment on Austin Boulevard in Oak Park way back in 1974. Magazine isn’t quite right. Paul described it as a photocopied newsletter that he’d deliver to a small number of subscribers.
That changed, though, as Vegetarian Times rather quickly became the voice of vegetarians across America, reflecting in the perfect moment the intersection of health, animal ethics, and, in a notable way, celebrity.
Well Paul died a week ago in California. He was just 66. His wife Janeen called with the not unexpected news. Paul had Lewy body dementia, a not uncommon but certainly very hard illness.
Janeen called her husband a provider and a force for humanity. She said he was forward thinking, creative and intellectually energetic. He was, she said, brilliant, eccentric, a sweet gentle soul and a humanitarian.
Those are apt words to describe the man I knew so many years ago. A conversation with Paul would go on for a long while and in many unexpected directions. But it was always interesting.
Paul and Clare sold the magazine at least a couple of times. After the first sale, they stayed on as publisher and food editor respectively. That kept them across the hall in our longtime offices on Oak Park Avenue. If I remember this right, Paul got the chance to buy back his magazine and he took it. But this time he brought along a minority investor, Fred Rogers, not surprisingly a vegetarian.
Mister Rogers was a silent but not uninterested partner and that led to his visit to Oak Park about 1987. Clare came across to tell us that Fred Rogers would be in the building that afternoon and that any of us with small kids who wanted to meet him should gather up after school.
We, of course, brought our young son Ben. By 3:30, there were a good number of thrilled parents and amazed adults in the hall. And as the current crop of filmmakers and documentary producers have found, Fred Rogers was as kind and caring as a man can be. For something so unsurprising, he was a revelation.
Paul and Clare and Fred sold the magazine yet again, this time for a considerable sum. Paul was out of publishing though I never had a conversation with him when he didn’t have a plan to get back in the game.
Paul and Clare had six sons: Nick (Jess), Quentin (Maryam), Paul W., Kevin (Beth), Timothy (Anastasia) and Gregory.
Clare Barrett — she took back her family name — died in 2015. Also young at 64. Clare wrote a food column for the Journal for many years, was the winner and possibly only entrant in our vegetarian rib-tasting contest. Charlie Robinson was gracious as our judge.
Here’s another story as I remember Paul telling it — and another obit for Paul tells a different version. Clare, always up for fun, was riding a scooter near their Forest Avenue home, wiped out, and really did damage, as in gruesome, to her leg. Their church community turned out big with endless meals, many of them animal-based. Paul said it felt ungracious not to eat the food. So he did and concluded after decades of tofu and veggies “that I really liked meat.”
Donations to the National Vegetarian Museum are requested.