Tomorrow would have been Dan Rice’s 68th birthday. My brother passed away on Sept. 26 from esophageal cancer.
Dan was a well-regarded lawyer in Oak Park and Forest Park. He was a sole practitioner for 40 years, handling every kind of legal matter. Between his law practice and musical career, he became a public figure in Forest Park. I couldn’t walk down the street without people asking me if I was Dan’s brother. I would tell them Dan kept me out of jail all these years. They’d have their own stories about how Dan helped them with a legal problem.
When people heard Dan was sick, they stopped to ask me how he was doing. Now that he has died, they offer their condolences. Dan and I had a good relationship during our decades in Forest Park. We once shared offices on Circle Avenue, where we helped each other professionally. I also briefly played keyboard for his band, The Lemurs.
Music has been our bond since we were kids. Back then, we had a somewhat rocky relationship. Dan was five years older and the only surefire way to get his attention was to take a swing at him. We fought like brothers do, but I have warm memories of sharing a room with him. We had a radio and listened to Dick Biondi spin the latest hits on WLS. These songs became part of our DNA and he was still playing them at his gigs in Forest Park.
We also shared a love of classical music and movie soundtracks since they were the only records we had. During his teen years, though, Dan expanded my musical tastes. He would bring home records by performers with strange names, like Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas & Papas, and Bob Dylan.
He wasn’t just content to listen to music; he desperately wanted to play an instrument. Our parents wouldn’t pay for formal lessons, so Dan became the only kid in the family to play our piano. I admired his patience and persistence as he learned songs by ear.
He continued to pursue his musical dream as an adult and joined some friends to form The Lemurs. His stage name was Just Dan and he often sang lead vocals while playing percussion. He had a great ability to memorize lyrics. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was one of his standards. The Lemurs had a playful spirit and didn’t take themselves too seriously.
After the band disbanded, though, Dan became more serious about his music. It helped greatly that he teamed up with Tam Trutwin, who became his beloved fiancé. “Tam & Dan” were fixtures on the Forest Park music scene. They sounded good together and he wasn’t afraid to act silly, wearing a wig, or some outlandish outfit. He also took up the harmonica, under the tutelage of John Milan, and showed steady improvement.
Tam & Dan stopped performing when Dan was diagnosed in February. He underwent treatment that he called “hi-tech Medieval.” His condition improved, until he suddenly went downhill during the last month. Tam devoted herself to Dan, staying with him 24/7.
I will never forget my last visit with my brother. He could barely speak but, ever the showman, he kept us laughing for 45 minutes. It was the kind of dark humor that the Irish turn to when reality is too painful. I was so touched that Dan wanted us to laugh, despite the dire circumstances.
When it was time to leave, we said we loved each other.
And tomorrow I will say, “Happy Birthday, Dan.”
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com