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Lee Ann Northcutt (nee Thomas) lived to an old age but died young.
On Thursday, May 4, 2023, Lee passed peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her books and the many pictures and drawings of her grandchildren that adorned every wall in every room of her home.
Born and raised in 1937 in the bungalow belt of the northwest side of Chicago, the vivid memories Lee had of her childhood inspired the many short stories and vignettes she would write later in life. News of the attack on Pearl Harbor, images of a segregated city and the vibrant downtown nightlife of 1940s Chicago were among the topics described in her distinctive prose.
From an early age, Lee was passionate about literature, music and art. One of the three jobs her father had was working as a printer in a shop set up in the family’s basement. As a young girl, Lee would help her father handset type on the 1906 steam printing press that ran late into the night. From those early experiences with the form of words began an amazing facility with the English language.
Lee entered the working world at age fourteen as a salesclerk at the Sears at Six Corners. By her early 20s, she was working in television as an administrative assistant at CBS and NBC Chicago, living in her first apartment by Lake Michigan on Ainsle Avenue where she delighted in hearing the waves lapping against the rocks. During her stint as an assistant for talk show host Irv Kupcinet, Lee met a steady stream of celebrities and politicians, including Sidney Poitier and George Burns, who once invited her to dance a soft shoe on the set after a show.
Lee’s acquiescence to vote republican (in line with her family’s wishes) ended abruptly in the Fall of 1960 when she was pushed to the side of a large throng of people moving through the CBS lobby toward the elevators. Wearing a “Vote Nixon” button, she was taken aback when the apparent source of the commotion – then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy – walked up to her with a broad smile. Touching the Nixon button, Kennedy said, “Now, what’s that?”
Lee never answered Kennedy’s question, but retold the story to his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, before a taping of the Kup’s Show days before his assassination. Until the day she died, discussing any political viewpoint in her presence that was even mildly right of center would produce a rhetorical assault on the offending party.
Lee would later meet and marry Marion L. Northcutt and in 1969, gave birth to her first and only son, Lance. As a new mother, Lee let go of her urban roots to move with her young family to Harwood Heights and later, to some chagrin, the western suburbs.
When her son went to school, Lee took a position as a secretary at Argonne National Laboratory. Working for a noted research scientist in the Physics Division, her role as a secretary did not prevent her from airing her strong views about what she considered to be unartfully drafted research manuscripts submitted for publication. Soon after her arrival at Argonne, Lee had crafted a niche for herself as an editor, ghost writer, proofreader and unbending word boss whose authority grew as her many talents revealed themselves.
In 1980, Lee’s and her family moved for a brief time to Indianapolis. When asked about what it was like to go from Chicago to Indiana, Lee would retort, “There’s a time difference between the two. When you leave Chicago, you set your clock back 40 years.”
But soon, Lee found a new passion during her exile from Chicago. When friends goaded her into attending the time trials for an upcoming Indy 500, she reluctantly agreed. As Lee walked toward the stadium and heard the high-pitched roar of the engines, she turned a corner and saw a race car whizzing by at 200 miles an hour. Instantly, she was hooked on the sport. For the rest of her life, anyone who knew her thought better than to call or visit on the last Sunday of May— race day.
After three years, the family came home to Chicago, and Lee returned to Argonne, working on environmental impact statements. Lee was a beloved figure at Argonne and the recipient of numerous awards.
An avid bibliophile, Lee turned her passion for literature and books into a robust business. Inspired by the story of Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Lee created Northbooks, an online business selling used and rare books. During her long life, she wore many hats – secretary, editor, real estate agent and aerobics instructor – but relished in saying to people who asked what she did for a living, “I’m a bookseller.”
Lee’s love dedication as a mother knew no bounds and the most joyous part of her life came with the arrival of her three grandchildren, Olivia, Liam and Colin. “Grandma Lee” was a constant presence in their lives who dispensed unconditional love and incessant praise upon them from the day each was born.
Lee Ann Northcutt is survived by her loving son, Lance D. Northcutt (Patricia); Lee’s cherished grandchildren Olivia, Colin and Liam; Lee’s brothers John Thomas and Larry Thomas, as well as Lance’s half-siblings Mitchell Northcutt, Kevin Northcutt, Tammy Northcutt-Horney and Katherine Trost.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, May 11th from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Cooney Funeral Home located at 625 Busse Hwy. in Park Ridge. A brief service will conclude the visitation at 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Cure SMA (http://www.curesma.org) to support research and treatment for children who suffer from spinal muscular atrophy.
For information please call 847-685-1002 or visit www.cooneyfuneralhome.com
925 Busse Road, Elk Grove Village IL 60007