After her husband’s death, Eve Tyree found the courage to rebuild and repurpose her life.
Losing a spouse – most of us would consider that our worst nightmare. We speculate about how we would cope, and we hope and pray that we never have to find out. Eve Tyree didn’t have that luxury. In 2011 her husband, Jim, passed away unexpectedly. In the midst of her shock and sadness, Eve knew that she had to move forward. With three children to raise and four hearts to heal, she set out to start a new chapter for herself and her family. In the process, she found a way to honor her husband’s memory, and discovered a part of herself she never knew existed.
“I don’t think I had a choice,” Eve recalls, finding the strength to go on after her husband died three years ago. “After Jim passed away, somebody said to me, ‘My dad died when I was in third grade and it wasn’t that he died that devastated me; it was the fact that my mother fell apart and couldn’t be there for us.’ I took that to heart.”
But Eve really did have choices. She chose to set a positive example for her children, and she chose to make the best of a life she didn’t ask for. “I knew I needed to be a leader for my children,” she says. “I needed to show them that we could move forward, that it’s okay to be happy and do all the things they should – and want to – do.
“And I took pretty much every invitation I got,” she continues. “I made sure that I went out.” Socializing wasn’t easy at first; rather, it was more of a ‘fake-it-‘til-you-make-it’ proposition. “Sometimes I think that if you behave a certain way your emotions will follow,” she muses. “Sure, there were times when I was like, ‘Do I want to go to this alone? No.’ But once I was there, I was fine. And once you start doing that you meet more people and it becomes easier.”
Not only was Eve open to social invitations; she was open to new ideas as well. When Richard Price, CEO of Mesirow Financial, suggested she create a non-profit foundation to honor Jim, she welcomed the opportunity. Both Eve and her late husband had close ties to Richard and Mesirow – Eve was once the CFO of the company; Jim was CEO at the time of his death. “Richard said, ‘Why don’t we start a foundation? You can be involved and someday your kids can be involved… It can be something to pass down to them.’ I thought it was a wonderful idea.”
With the help of Richard Price, a hand-picked board of directors and a small staff – all of whom were close with Jim – Eve established the James Tyree Foundation in 2012 and dedicated it to providing funds to organizations and programs in the Chicago area that focus on academics and healthcare. “It’s a tangible way for people to show how much they cared about Jim, and to honor the impact that he had on them,” she states. The foundation is already creating an impact of its own – in just two years it’s awarded close to $1 million in grants.
The foundation’s success hasn’t come without growing pains, however, and it was Eve who felt them. “I was kind of a quiet person who didn’t like speaking or going out and asking for money,” she admits. “Jim was the person who met with people. He was a great fundraiser. But sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones,” she posits. “Sometimes you’re forced to do it.”
Like everything else in her life at the time, fundraising was new and unplanned. But she kept an open mind and learned the ropes. “Now I’m out there spreading the word about the work we’ve done with so many great organizations,” she says. “Jim really was about giving back. That’s why we need to keep doing this – to keep his memory and what he stood for alive. It’s challenging to go out there and ask for donations, but I love that I’ve taken on these new challenges. I think Jim would have been proud of me.”
The former CFO’s goal is to build the foundation through fundraising and wise investments, and to continue funding organizations that improve the lives of people in the Chicago area. Eventually she hopes to turn the reins over to her children. “Someday when they’re old enough to get involved, I think they’re going to feel really good about it.”
Today Eve and her children – a high school-aged daughter and twin sixth grade boys – still feel the loss. “It’s been hard, I’ll be honest with you,” she confesses. “I tell my children that their father would have wanted them to go on and be happy. But as time goes by, they’re realizing that he’s really gone. My sons were in a basketball training session and a dad walked out on the court with his son. My son said, ‘I wish dad were here.’ So it’s hard. They really miss him.”
But if there’s comfort in numbers, it’s abundant in the Tyrees’ extended family. “Every Sunday my family gets together for dinner,” Eve says. “It’s usually 15 to 17 people, and sometimes friends drop in. My kids get to see their cousins, aunts and uncles. I’m fortunate in that my family is here. Jim’s family is mostly in the Chicago area, too, so it’s great – and it’s great for my kids.”
Eve says her children have brought insight and inspiration into the new life they’re carving out together. “They have pure joy in things,” she marvels. “They don’t worry about what other people think – they just go for it. I’m kind of a scaredy cat and they’re daredevils. I took them skiing and they took to it without any fear. Me? I’m afraid. I’m like, ‘What if this happens? What if I fall?’ I tend to want to make sure it’s okay and safe. So it’s great to have somebody on the other side who says, ‘Hey, let’s go and have fun.’”
Oftentimes, it’s Eve who initiates the fun. “I’m a huge sports fan – a huge White Sox fan,” she declares. “Now my kids are getting into it, so we love going to baseball games. Last year we went to spring training and loved it.” And she’s an even bigger fan of the up-and-coming talent living under her roof. “I love watching my kids play,” she gushes. “My boys just finished basketball and they’re starting baseball. I’m one of those people who really loves it – I even go to their practices.”
Courageous, mindful, openly vulnerable and immeasurably strong, Eve Tyree has consciously created a new normal that’s working, for both herself and her family. “It’s never going to be the same,” she concedes. “My husband was a wonderful person – we had a great marriage and a great family. So, yeah, it’s very difficult. But I can’t change what happened. I want to be happy and I want my children to be happy. I think life is wonderful and that we should try to enjoy it as much as possible. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what my husband would have wanted for me and for our kids.”
Paul Elledge Photograph