Gary Comer, founder of the Lands’ End clothing company and major philanthropist for Chicago’s South Side, died from cancer October 5 in his Chicago home. He was 78 years old.
Born in 1927 and raised on the South Side, Comer received his high school diploma from the Paul Revere School in 1942. He worked as a copywriter for 10 years before starting his own mail-order sailing equipment enterprise in 1962, sparked by his childhood love of sailing, according to a press release from the U of C News Office.
Lands’ End is currently the second largest mail-order business specializing in apparel and has the world’s largest clothing website. Comer remained the chairman and major stockholder of the Lands’ End board after resigning as company president in 1990.
Chicago’s South Side has benefited greatly from his philanthropy, consisting of more than $84 million over the last decade dedicated to Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago. His benevolence included donating $20 million in 2001 to build the hospital, $20 million in 2003 to add a pediatric emergency room, and $42 million in 2006 for the Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care. The last donation is the largest single contribution ever made to the University of Chicago.
Comer was also concerned with revitalizing his childhood neighborhood, and donated about $50 million to the Revere School community, as well as $30 million to create the Gary Comer Youth Center next to his alma mater. He also supported the Revere School’s educational efforts, a neighborhood housing initiative, and the South Shore Drill Team.
Comer’s third major area of philanthropic interest was the environment. He gave more than $6 million to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, supporting a fellows program for climate change research.
Comer’s wife, Frances, his two children, Guy and Stephanie, his son-in-law, Rob Craigie, and his three grandchildren, Sienna, Luca, and Gary, Jr., survive him.