When someone at school asked Cliff Wirth‚Äôs kids what their dad did for a living, one of them answered: ‚ÄúDad doesn‚Äôt do anything ‚ÄĒ he stays in the basement and draws funny pictures.‚ÄĚ
Not understanding that Mr. Wirth actually made his living doing what he called ‚Äúslinging ink,‚ÄĚ a school employee felt terrible for the family.
‚ÄúThey brought a food basket by,‚ÄĚ said Cathy Snell, one of the Wirth kids.
Mr. Wirth, 91, died May 8 in Bedford, Mass., where he‚Äôd moved to be closer to his children. He had Alzheimer‚Äôs disease.
A gifted cartoonist, he provided for a family of seven kids on his whimsical drawings, which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times during the decades he worked for the paper.
‚ÄúHe always said, ‚ÄėYou have to hustle,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ his daughter said. ‚ÄúHe was a hired gun with seven children ‚ÄĒ you‚Äôre going to be working all the time.‚ÄĚ
He grew up in a family of five kids in Bayonne, N.J. He remembered his childhood so fondly that he created an illustrated book about it: ‚ÄúStickball, Streetcars and Saturday Matinees.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHe had wonderful stories about growing up in New Jersey, and he would illustrate them,‚ÄĚ said former Sun-Times artist John Downs, ‚Äújust a bunch of kids running through the neighborhood, jumping from garage roof to garage roof.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúA tremendous cartoonist,‚ÄĚ Downs said. ‚ÄúCliff could handle a deadline.‚ÄĚ
His father Frederick owned a company that dealt in oxygen canisters.
While at Michigan State University, Mr. Wirth enlisted in a military training program and ended up serving as a mechanic with the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.
‚ÄúNone of us can quite figure that out,‚ÄĚ his daughter said. ‚ÄúHe and a screwdriver? Not the best of friends.‚ÄĚ
For a time, he was stationed on Japan‚Äôs Hokkaido Island, working on PBYs ‚ÄĒ an amphibious plane.
After the war, he studied on the GI Bill at Detroit‚Äôs Meinzinger Art School.
He started his newspaper career in 1950 at The Detroit Times.
The following year, he and fellow Detroiter Catherine Lois Francisco, whom he met at a dance, were married.
He worked on his ‚Äúfunny pictures‚ÄĚ in a basement office crammed with his gear.
‚ÄúIt was totally pre-computer,‚ÄĚ his daughter said. ‚ÄúI remember ink, X-Acto knives, markers, watercolor pens, brushes, different kinds of paper. It was stacks and shelves of stuff.‚ÄĚ
To Mr. Wirth, Blick‚Äôs and other art supplies stores were seductive. On entering one, he‚Äôd tell his kids: ‚ÄúWalk me down the aisle ‚ÄĒ get me out of here before I buy anything.‚ÄĚ
At times, he drew for auto companies, shopping centers, Michigan Beverage News, the Fuller Brush Company and the Citizens Utility Board.
In 1979, he joined the Sun-Times, where he worked until his retirement in 2002. He and Catherine lived in Wilmette and Evanston.
He enjoyed his wife‚Äôs hobby of raising and showing prize-winning English bulldogs.
‚ÄúShe loved dogs,‚ÄĚ he once said, ‚Äúand one day she said she‚Äôd like to have one. I said, if we‚Äôre going to do it, let‚Äôs get a good one.‚ÄĚ
Mr. Wirth named the first bulldog Winston. Rosie, Eddy, Aretha, Paloma and others followed. Later, Catherine Wirth switched to raising French bulldogs.
He loved vacationing and golfing in the Low Country around South Carolina‚Äôs Hilton Head Island, which he viewed with an artist‚Äôs eye.
‚ÄúEach year, my better half and I discard the earmuffs and woolen mufflers and scoot to the warmer confines below the Mason-Dixon line,‚ÄĚ he wrote in a Sun-Times travel piece. ‚ÄúThe Creator outdid Himself here. He spread an incomparably beautiful wide beach along the coast. . . .He didn‚Äôt forget His sense of humor, either, as a glance at the pelicans and alligators proves.‚ÄĚ
In addition to daughter Cathy Snell, Mr. Wirth is survived by daughters Patricia Moody and Bridget Tremaine, sons Robert, Timothy and Gary, his sister Peggy Wirth, 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Mr Wirth will be cremated. His remains are to be buried next to those of his wife at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Mich. A memorial is planned for sometime later this summer in the Detroit area, according to Cathy Snell.