Cartoonist Joe Parrish

Gazette Article by: Barbara Joyce
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1995

Most people work for a living and, if they’re lucky, pursue hobbies in their free time. Joe Parrish, former political cartoonist and creature of the “Nature Notes” series for the Chicago Tribune, was one of the fortunate few who was able to pursue his hobbies for a living.

A self-taught artist, Mr. Parrish was a Tribune cartoonist from 1936 until his retirement in 1970. Even after his departure, he continued to draw his popular “Nature Notes” and paint occasional portraits for the paper until 1982.

Mr. Parrish and his wife lived on Private Road in Winnetka from 1946 to 1987. He died in 1989 and is remembered here by many. “When I was a paper boy in the sixties, the first thing I looked for in the mornings was the Parrish cartoon on the front page,” said Tom Hermes, who now collects original Parrish prints.

Parrish’s caricatures of political figures were so well rendered, name tags were unnecessary. His subject included every president from Hoover to Nixon.

“He was a natural,” said his grandson, Lester Knight, who feels his grandfather “would have done it for half the money.” “He had a wonderful wit,” said Knight. “He could find the irony in a situation.”

Mr. Parrish was known to be a staunch Republican. “But his point would be made in a way that was never hurtful,” said Knight. Knight acknowledged that the “Nature Notes” are what most people recall. These were a weekly montage of color drawings of animals accompanied by interesting facts. “He enjoyed them a lot,” said Knight. “They were compatible with his lifestyle. He took long walks, and he loved being outdoors.”

Although Parrish was a member of Knollwood Country Club, where his wife played golf, “He was not a golfer,” said Bill Alger, a long time family friend. “He just liked being in nature, watching the birds and observing the people. He was a lovely man,” said Alger. “Not at all arrogant, even though he was a celebrity. He was very friendly; he would talk to anybody. One of his talents was that he could sketch very quickly,” said Alger. “His cartoons didn’t have a lot of strokes.”

As Parrish’s career advanced, he painted oil portraits. His subjects included Colonel Robert McCormick, Joseph Medill, J. Edgar Hoover, and even Santa Claus.

The son of a coal dealer, Parrish was born in Tennessee in 1905. While still in high school he decided he wanted to be a cartoonist. He began sending samples of his work to the Tennessean and the Nashville Banner. His illustrated, two-line gags were printed, and he was hired as cartoonist for the Banner when he was 20. Four years later he moved to the Tennessean, and after seven years, he was asked to join the staff of the Chicago Tribune.

Discussion of his life is incomplete without mention of his wife, Ludean. “She was the driving force,” said Knight. “She saw to their financial security. He used her as a lifeline.” While Joe worked and studied, she attended to every other detail of their lives.

His daughter, Joanne Knight, said, “He was a man who loved his life.”

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