Remembering Gene Birmingham
by Bob Roman
Those of you who receive the email editions of New Ground know that
Gene Birmingham passed away on October 2 of 2013. We had a brief note
about it in New Ground 150.2. When I attempted to write about Gene for
that issue, I wrote one lame paragraph then quickly realized that
everything I knew about him was in fragments that really did not make a
narrative. The only thing for it was to bring Gene back on stage to
speak for himself. I could do that because he wrote for New Ground now
and then. You'll find titles and links to his articles at
Now, more than a month later, I'm giving it a second try. Writing about
Gene hasn't gotten easier.
Gene was a retired minister from the United Church of Christ, having
been the pastor at West Chicago's St. Michael's Church until the end of
the 1990s. He hadn't begun his calling in that denomination; he spoke of
his education at Wheaton College as something he had recovered from.
The only obvious personal manifestation of his profession seemed to be a
talent for listening and a knack for catching green lights in traffic.
He also had an interest in the intersection between politics and
religion: How the values and sentiments of religion find expression in
Just what led him to DSA, I don't recall. He joined sometime in 1990.
In September of 1993, he became treasurer of Chicago DSA, elected at a
special election to fill an unexpected vacancy. He finished the term but
then spent the next few years concentrating on Chicago DSA's West
Suburban (DuPage, Will, and Kane counties) branch. In 1996, he was back
on the Chicago DSA Executive Committee, this time as secretary. He
remained secretary until 2011.
His service on the Executive Committee would have been a great gift
even if Gene had only been the diligent and accurate scribe of meeting
minutes that he was. But he also served as the master of ceremonies for
some of our Debs Thomas Harrington Dinners. He did it well and did
it graciously. Gene was also skilled in office administration. This may
not sound like much, but mailings seemed to magically self-assemble
with his assistance.
Gene had other political affiliations besides DSA. He was for many
years a Democratic precinct captain in Addison Township. Outside of
Cook County, fyi, precinct captain is an elected position. He was active
in the West Suburban Faith-Based Peace Coalition. As retired clergy, he
remained active with his denomination, substituting at services during
vacations, presiding over an occasional wedding, and helping with other
tasks. Just a few months ago, he was proud to have presided at a "gay"
wedding. They asked for him specifically.
As a former Southsider, he was a big White Sox fan. He was also a big
fan of Bruce Springsteen. In fact, I don't believe I'll ever hear a
Springsteen cut again without thinking of Gene Birmingham. Pardon me
while I go and spin some vinyl.