World War II veteran, businessman and philanthropist Richard Duchossois passed away peacefully on January 28 in his Chicago-area home at the age of 100.
“Mr. D,” as he was known by those close to him, leaves behind a legacy of service, success and generosity, as well as loving family members who continue to embrace these values and a community he strengthened through his philanthropy.
Philanthropy Roundtable would like to pay tribute to Duchossois and reflect on his myriad achievements and contributions to society.
“Discipline of the Mind”
As a young man, Duchossois attended the Morgan Park Military Academy, where he said he learned “discipline of the mind,” then joined the U.S. Army at the age of 20 as the U.S. entered World War II.
Duchossois commanded a tank destroyer battalion through five campaigns in Europe, including at the Battle of the Bulge, dubbed “the greatest American battle of the war” by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Duchossois suffered a gunshot wound in combat and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his sacrifice and bravery.
Following the war, Duchossois married Beverly Thrall and joined her family’s business, the Thrall Car Manufacturing Company, “a modest railcar parts and repair company with 35 employees and a rudimentary yard, based in Chicago Heights, Illinois.”
Duchossois grew the company to 3,000 employees before it was acquired by the Trinity Rail Group in 2001.
A Legend in Horse Racing
Over the years, Duchossois compiled a diverse business portfolio which included a manufacturing company, broadcast outlets and Arlington Park, a Chicago-area thoroughbred racetrack.
After Arlington Park burned to the ground in an electrical fire in 1985, Duchossois demonstrated the “discipline of the mind” he learned in military school, and accomplished a feat that would go down in horse racing history.
One racetrack employee recalled how Duchossois proposed handling an upcoming thoroughbred race, saying, “Mr. Duchossois gathered us all together and said, ‘We’re going to run the Arlington Million right here in 21 days.’ None of us thought it was possible. The only guy who knew it was possible was Dick Duchossois. Thank God for that.”
In just 21 days, Duchossois led the rebuild and hosted 35,000 fans for the fifth running of the Arlington Million. The racetrack became the first to earn racing’s highest honor, the Eclipse Award.
A Legacy of Giving
After he lost his wife to cancer, Duchossois made his first major philanthropic gift in 1980 to the University of Chicago Medical Center to support cancer research. Since that time, the Duchossois family has continued to support philanthropic efforts through its family foundation.
The Duchossois Family Foundation, established in 1984 by first and second-generation family members, “strives to empower individuals to enhance their quality of life through wellness and education.”
The foundation currently supports a number of community organizations including JourneyCare, which provides “comprehensive and compassionate care for adults, children and families facing severe illness,” Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, an employment assistance program, and the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, which treats and prevents child abuse.
In 2017, the family and foundation provided a $100 million grant to University of Chicago Medicine to establish the Duchossois Family Institute, “which seeks to accelerate research and interventions based on how the human immune system, microbiome and genetics interact to maintain health.” This gift was the largest in the history of University of Chicago Medicine.
Philanthropy Roundtable extends its condolences to the Duchossois family for their loss.