Jack Higgins Was the Heart and Soul of Chicago

By Pat Hickey

On Wednesday, February 14, I woke at my usual time of 4:00 A.M. thinking about getting my Lenten Ashes after school. I am substituting for Mrs. Wagner’s high school English classes in Westville, Indiana which is about eleven miles south of Michigan City and ashes are being distributed early this morning at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

I would need to call Father Walt at the rectory. After looking on-line for the rectory phone number, clicked on the Chicago Sun Times and saw a death notice for Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Jack Higgins. I could not read the full feature, because the Chicago Sun Times pay-wall blocked access to details of Jack’s passing. I would get the news elsewhere.

Jack Higgins is gone. Authentic Chicago is dead and gone and with Jack Higgins in the grave.

When I was teaching at Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, Illinois, I would stay connected with my cousin Willie who, at the time, managed Gilhooly  Grande Saloon on 103rd . Willie told me of a wildly talented young bartender who could caricature and cartoon like no one else, by the name of Jack Higgins. Jack’s work soon made its way to the Chicago Sun Times, where it was a daily staple for decades.

Jack Higgins captured the heart and soul of what used to be Chicago, a city of broad shoulders which also lacked pretense and bullshit.

The son of Chicago Police Captain Maurice Higgins and one of large Catholic family from St. Thomas More Parish, Jack Higgins was schooled by the Dominican sisters and later the Jesuits and Holy Cross clerics. Jack Higgins was Catholic to the core of his being and so was Chicago at that time.

When I was raising money for Leo High School, Captain Mo Higgins’s alma mater, Ron Gidwitz a Jewish philanthropist and cosmetics executive told me that without Catholic philanthropy Chicago would still be a smoldering wreck of a city.

Jack Higgins practiced his art within the glow of his Catholic faith. Jack was a fierce opponent of abortion and euthanasia.

The Chicago Sun Times is death’s biggest cheerleader.

Jack Higgins loved people, real people.

I was introduced to Jack Higgins by my late wife Mary, who was an Art teacher. Mary and I lived as dorm parents on the campus of La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. I taught English and brought along a brilliant and romantically handsome young teacher Pat Mulligan poached from the faculty of Bishop McNamara. Mr. Pat Mulligan, at the time, was dating a beautiful artist and chef by the name of Julie Larsen and Julie was a close chum of Jack Higgins. Pat’s brother was Chicago Sun Times sports columnist  Mike Mulligan, the only reporter that Michael Jordan would speak with at one time. There, see how it unfolds?

Mary introduced me to the brilliant and witty young cartoonist that my cousin Willie had bragged up for years. Mary was pregnant with my son Conor, whom the obstetrician swore would be born with Downs Syndrome and argued for an immediate abortion. My wife, a direct woman, replied, “You are fired, Bitch!” Jack Higgins loudly and laughingly approved of my wife’s imperative. Jack Higgins often retold the yarn.

We became close and good friends from my final days at La Lumiere School, through my wife’s battle with brain cancer and death, through my decades of service to Leo High School. At about the time that I retired, I was told by a pal that Jack Higgins was having great health issues. I would meet Jack Higgins and his growing family at St. John Cantius for the 11 A.M. Sunday Mass, but much of the spark in his eyes had dimmed.

This Ash Wednesday/St. Valentine’s Day I learned that Jack Higgins had died from the Chicago Sun Times, learned more of his February 10 th return to Christ from a friend and Jack’s sister. That is most fitting.

Jack Higgins hated bullies, grifters and phonies. He was a celebrated political journalist but preferred the company of people most like his father and mother, Hardworking, religious, and patriotic Americans who are unashamed to live their convictions. Jack often put the people he loved into his work. Consider this piece.

Three guys grab a few toddies to the drone of the talking-head on the idiot box. The Man at the center of the piece is the late Jim “the Judge” Perner, a hockey coach and frequent flyer on the Keegan’s Pub barstools. The Judge and others like jazz aficionado Seb Costin, CPS teacher Mary Pat McWalters, Tommy Ward the millwright, publicans Bernard Callaghan and Boz O’Brien, police officers Marty Tully, Jimmy and Billy Higgins (no relations), firefighters Mike Miller and Pete Joyce often make an appearance in the body of Jack Higgins Cartoons.

Every Christmas, the names of public figures Ron Gidwitz, John Kass, Mike Mulligan, Steve Huntley, Ray Coffey, Dennis Byrne, Tom Roeser, Paul Vallas and Lord Conrad Black would link up in a Christmas tree garland with the Everyman-like wonderful persons listed in the above paragraph and Pat & Mary Hickey as Santa’s Good Boys & Girls. Most importantly, Jack always had an incredibly special placement for the love of his life Missy.

Jack hated cant and phonies. President Bill Clinton held an incredibly special place at the bottom of Jack Higgins’s regard. This cartoon would never appear in Marxist-run Chicago Sun Times of 2024.

Jack is gone home to Christ. The body of his work deserves careful study if this country of ours is ever to become great again. Jack Higgins valorized duty, devotion, and dedication to one’s family. I challenge someone much more talented than me. People like John Kass, or Steve Huntley should get permission to catalog the cartoons of Jack Higgins, edit and comment upon the pieces and present them for publication.

We need the Complete Jack Higgins. One of the conventions in Elizabethan and Jacobin dramas is the closing speech that is meant to set the world right after tragedy befalls. Therefore, it seems fitting that the last words on life and character of Jack Higgins should fall to his editor, Mr. Steve Huntley.

“I was nigh city editor when Jack won the Pulitzer Prize. I was leaving the Sun Times building after midnight when I ran into Jack at the end of a day of celebrations. I congratulated him and said it was a great day for him. Without missing a beat, he immediately replied that it was a great day for the Sun Times, that he wanted to share the Pulitzer with all his fellow staffers at the paper”.

“That is the kind of man Jack was. His immense talent was matched by his great generosity and good nature. Later I had the privilege and pleasure of working with him as editorial page editor. He was an outstanding and insightful artist who delivered the highest quality work every day. I have two of his works on my home office wall, drawings of me from the time when I left Chicago and when I retired from writing for the paper. I treasure them for his artistry, his friendship and his generosity.”

Photos of the Jack Higgins cartoons offered by the Kevin Hickey Collection


Pat HickeyBorn November 8, 1952 in Englewood Hospital, Chicago Illinois, Pat Hickey attended Chicago Catholic grammar and high schools, received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Loyola University in 1974, began teaching English and coaching sports at Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, IL in 1975, married Mary Cleary in 1983, received a Master of Arts in English Literature from Loyola in 1987, taught at La Lumiere School in Indiana from 1988-1994, took a position as Director of Development with Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, IN and then Leo High School in Chicago in 1996.  His wife Mary died in 1998 and Hickey returned with his three children to Chicago’s south side. From 1998 until 2019, it became obvious that Illinois and Chicago turned like Stilton cheese on a humid countertop. In that time, he wrote a couple of books and many columns for Irish American News. When the kids became independent and vital adults, he moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where he job coaches Downs Syndrome and Autistic teens in LaPorte County.  He walks to the Michigan City Lighthouse every chance he gets.

Comments 20

  1. Rip to Jack and all the other decent, hard working, no nonsense people from the south side who have fallen asleep since I left that once great Chicago neighborhood. I hope the next obits I read are the ones that have the news of the final demise of the Sun Times and the Tribune.
    I proudly delivered those papers as a boy. I put out the relays, stuffed and bundled the weekend editions, and ran the “Bull Dog” editions to the stores all over Beverly. I always thought they were great papers back then. I don’t think they are now. Back then they had great people like Jack working there. Great article Pat. And good on John for publishing it here.

    1. I also delivered the Trib and the Sun-Times every morning, 365 days a year, as a boy in the Lawndale neighborhood.

      Man, those Sunday Tribs were heavy.

      In the winter, I knew where all the warm, heated hallways were on my route for break time.

      Matt Marciniec

  2. The Chicago of Jack Higgins’s is gone. Long gone. While it’s nice to reminisce, reality will stick its head in occasionally. It’s beyond time to get out of the city, and the state of Illinois. Let them fester, like the open wound they are, full of pus and oozing with unmentionable unguents. I say this with a heavy heart. As a product of old St.Leo’s, who continually had to move to avoid the oncoming Black Plague, I know whereof I speak.
    Get out. Now.

  3. Thanks Pat, and RIP to Jack. My Mom always read the Sun-Times as it was easier for her page thru, and always chuckled at Jack’s take on our pompous city “leaders!” Of course Dad was a Trib man, so I grew up always hearing both sides of a political debate. I suspect both my parents have rolled over a few times seeing the demise of this city and state the death of journalism in Chicago. At least Kasso had the guts to kiss off the Trib and reinvent himself! Thank God!!

  4. Thanks for writing this Pat Hickey. He didn’t like phonies. But he liked you. Thanks for remembering a friend, and treating him with respect and kindness, unlike a weasel at his old paper.

  5. I always admired how political cartoonists like Jack Higgins, Scott Stantis, Jeff McNally, and others were able to communicate so many hot button issues with a drawing and very few words, if any at all.
    Thanks for sharing Pat.

  6. My first job was delivering papers. I read the Tribune and the Sun-Times daily (as well as the American, the Daily News, and Chicago Today as they came and went…) Higgins’ cartoons were always my favorite. I am a bit more liberal than he was, but it gave me great perspective to see his views, and I dare say it curbed my more-radical tendencies… Godspeed, Jack…

  7. Jack was always a pleasure and a treasure. I took my daughter to work around the time Nixon died, and Jack patiently drew a cartoon of the late president for her. We still have it. I was always proud that he included my name in his good boys and girls Christmas cartoon.

  8. Very well done Pat Hickey. All of us have been blessed by God with people like yourself, John Kass and of course Jack Higgins. Touching the heart and soul of citizens in Chicago and the total area around with words of wisdom and art alike is true greatness. Most of the time we never seem to reach the top of the shelf except when people like yourself come along to assist in that action of giving due where it has been earned.
    God bless all you guys who have enriched us so greatly with words and art. Thank you, Thank you….

  9. We would never be the guys we are today without the examples and stories we were lucky enough to witness and hear with and from Jack and all of these men of character at school, church, or in the neighborhood taverns, while growing up. Thanks and RIP Jack.

  10. Regretfully, I never saw much of Jack Higgins. When I was growing up, I only read the very excellent Chicago Tribune. They never won a Pulitzer, because only communist newspaper would win that award. It had great writers in Bob Weidreich, Arch Ward, Dave Condon, Cooper Rollow, and many others. Later, John Kass came along and the paper only improved. Then came Rex Huppke, Stever Chapman, Rick Pearson and the paper lurched so far left, that our newspaper delivery man threw the paper only on the left side of the driveway.

    One of my greatest joys in life was cancelling the now reduced to a paper napkin size Chicago Tribune. I used the money I saved to subscribe to the Kasso Truth Machine.
    There is joy in the world. I hope someone complies a collection of Higgins artwork so I many see what I missed over the years

  11. I have a longtime friend who was at one time a reporter for the Sun-Times. We both admired and were fans of Higgins and his incredible ability to distill complex issues into a witty drawing. But every once in a while, I’d call my friend to ask if he understood the point of a particular cartoon, usually one he didn’t get also. I have revisited some of those and realize, I was the one who didn’t get it!

  12. Dear Pat, thank you for this beautiful tribute to Jack. I did not know him well although we worked together at the Sun-Times for a good while, but I wished I had. Your obituary for him is also a moving tribute to the Chicago I knew. Although at the time I was removed from a good understanding of traditional faith, I have since unworthily gained more insight into that, and how it is essential for our country and for the “lost city” I loved. Father Paul (Alf) Siewers

  13. I loved Jack Higgins’ cartoons. Being a parishioner of St. John Cantius, had the chance to meet and chat with him, and am happy I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his work.


  14. My dad, Bob Page, hired Jack when he was the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times. He told a great story about how Jack was hired. He’d visited the Chicago Tribune, where the editorial page editor would barely give him the time of day. So he called my dad for an interview and the rest is history.

    I got to know Jack while I worked in the CST’s circulation department. He was a great talent and a terrific human being.

    The last time I saw him, I was working “across the street,” at Tribune Media Services, a newspaper syndicate, as its midwest sales representative. On a Friday night, after returning from a week’s worth of sales calls, we ran into one another. Before long, we were sitting at the Billy Goat, telling tales and drinking the night away.

    His death, without question, is a huge loss to his family and friends, but also to an industry that’s bleeding talent and the ability to take on the powers that be.

    May God bless Jack Higgins and may he RIP.

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