RPCV Michael McCaskey, former Chicago Bears chairman, dies at 76

 

By BRAD BIGGS
CHICAGO TRIBUNE |
MAY 16, 2020 | 6:51 PM

Former Bears President Michael McCaskey, shown in this January 1999 photo, has died at 76.(JOSE MORE / CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

Michael McCaskey, who took over the reins of the Chicago Bears from his grandfather George Halas in 1983 before the team achieved its greatest moment two years later, died Saturday. He was 76.

McCaskey became the president and CEO of the Bears in 1983 and remained at the helm of the organization in a long run, serving as the chairman of the board from 1999 until 2011, when he stepped down and was replaced by his brother George.

McCaskey battled cancer for a considerable time. The oldest of Ed and Virginia McCaskey’s 11 children, McCaskey is survived by two children, John and Kathryn, and one grandson, Jackson.

“Mike was already successful in every sense of the word when he took over for George S. Halas after the passing of ‘Papa Bear’ in 1983,” the McCaskey family said in a statement released by the team. “We are grateful to Mike for overseeing arguably the greatest team in NFL history, and for his many years of service to the Bears and to us. The oldest of eleven siblings has many duties thrust upon him, not all of them pleasant, yet Mike handled them all with grace and patience.

“Although Mike’s passing was not brought on by the novel coronavirus, our family, like so many people, is not able to gather and grieve together at this time. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Our focus in the coming days will be to celebrate Mike’s life and be whatever source of support we can be to John and Kathryn and those they love.”

During McCaskey’s long run with the organization, the Bears were crowned Super Bowl XX champions, and he was named NFL executive of the year following the 1985 season. The club left its old headquarters at Lake Forest College for Halas Hall in 1997. Soldier Field was remodeled in 2002, when McCaskey served as chairman of the board. The Bears hired the first African-American head coach in franchise history, Lovie Smith, in 2004. He founded Bears Care, the team’s charitable arm, in 2005. The team reached the NFC championship game after the 2010 season, shortly before McCaskey stepped down.

“My heart is heavy as I think about Michael McCaskey, and I can’t believe he is no longer with us,” Ted Phillips, the team’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “His fierce love of the Bears was unmatched, as was his intellectual capacity and thirst for knowledge on a myriad of subjects. Michael displayed a professorial presence that could be challenging, but was also inspiring. I will be forever grateful for the many opportunities for growth that he provided me, as well as for his trust and support.

“Michael always strived to do things the right way with high character and with the Bears best interests always paramount. Michael was a good man, gone much too soon. He presided over the only Super Bowl Championship Chicago Bears team in 1985, and I know he is still smiling about that magical season. God bless Michael and his family.”

McCaskey graduated from Yale in 1965 with majors in philosophy and psychology and spent two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia 1965-67). He earned his doctorate in business from Case Western Reserve in 1972 and went on to become a professor at UCLA and the Harvard Business School.

McCaskey traveled and explored his passion for photography after retiring.

 

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  • John thanks for publishing Mike’s obit. I was friends with Mike & Dan Hogan, Yale roommates/ classmates who both joined the Peace Corps. I met them both in the Boston area when I was finishing my Ed.D at Harvard in the 1970s. Mike was on the faculty at HBS. He married a work colleague of mine and we would see each other at social gatherings. In 1980 I took a job in Toledo at a Fortune 50 company and the sales guys from Chicago lamented that their Bears tickets were on the 20 yard line. I bragged that I knew Mike McCaskey and I could help them get better seats! Mike wrote a letter back with this piece of advice” David tell the guys they are Lucky to have seats on the 20 yard line. Always good to hear from you.” Later in 1992 I was back in the Boston area and consulting on “ large scale change”. A Chicago client at Northern Trust was a huge Bears fan. Mike published a slim book while at HBS. It was almost out of print. I found 2 copies and asked Mike to have him sign it to the client AND to get Mike Ditka to sign it as well. It was well known they did not get along with each other. Anyway, Mike McCaskey came through,. The client was over the moon thrilled. Nothing but absolute class from Mike.

  • Sad news. Mike was always a gracious host for RPCVs attending meetings in Chicago. He became part of PC mythology by not being able to have a refrigerator while a PCV in Ethiopia, and then a few years later in Chicago owning The Refrigerator. His cheerful sense of humor will be missed.

    • Ted , you probably don’t recall me……Floyd Cross, Etjh 3, was lst volunteer in Buno Bedele, Illubabor. Still going in rural Midville, GA. 64-66. went to Micronesia later. on faceboolk.
      k.

  • I trained with Mike over the summer of 1965 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 55 years later, he reached out to me because of a project he was very passionate about, digitally upgrading English language learning and teaching in Ethiopia to make students more independent and classes more learner centered. He had a similar vision for all subjects. For the last several months I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with him on what will now become his legacy. Thank you Mike, it’s been a real pleasure!

  • Mike and my wife, Marcia, and I met during Peace Corps training in Salt Lake preparing to serve as teachers in Ethiopia. When the trainees and staff played flag football, Mike was the first pick, having played football at Yale with a strong arm throwing accurate spiral passes. During our vacation between the two years in Ethiopia, the summer of 1966, Mike, Marcia and I and two other volunteer colleagues, Taffy Green and Mark Foster, traveled around Kenya and Uganda. One of many memorable moments was Mike setting up his camera on a tripod in a game park trying to photograph an ostrich which had its head in the sand. When all was ready, the ostrich looked up and scampered away. Mike’s passion for photography and Ethiopia and his generosity and kindness to others will always be remembered.

  • Mike McCaskey wrote a wonderful review of Going Up Country published in World View magazine. He mentioned my story and included this quote in his review.

    The African clock is eternal. It keeps time with the daylight and the starlight, the hunger of the people and what needs to be done. It is not an external clock that nags on the wall and compels us to eat even if we are not hungry, or to leave because it is time to go and not because we want to go.

    I was so pleased that he selected that passage and felt it was something we all learned in the Peace Corps.

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