J.B. Pritzker opens up about his late mom
October 5th, 2017
J.B. Pritzker’s bio is widely-known. Billionaire. Hyatt Hotels heir. Entrepreneur. Venture capitalist. Philanthropist. Candidate for governor.
The story of his youth, though, is seldom shared.
In his latest political ad, Pritzker opens up about how his mother, Sue Pritzker, coped with the death of Pritzker’s father and how it shaped his own life. Pritzker was 7 when Donald Pritzker died of a sudden heart attack.
“My mother was left with three young children. She lost her job as my father’s partner in business. She lost her life partner. And she was afflicted with alcoholism. She struggled valiantly to overcome the disease so she could care for her own kids,” Pritzker says in the ad, referring to siblings and business leaders Tony Pritzker and Penny Sue Pritzker.
“Even though she lost the battle, she ultimately won. Because although she passed away, all three of us survived,” Pritzker continues. His mom died in a car crash when Pritzker was 17.
The ad is compelling in part because Pritzker so seldom talks about his parents. It also reveals rarely seen photos of his and Penny and Tony’s mom.
Before the new ad hit the airwaves, Pritzker talked to me about how it came about. It wasn’t something he planned to include in his campaign to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner. “Someone turned a camera on me and asked me some questions,” he said in an interview this week. After wrapping up the Q&A, Pritzker told staffers that that portion of the video “wasn’t usable in any way.”
But the campaign staff saw a human side of a man who has the world by the tail. They convinced him to share it. The ad explains what Pritzker’s friends see–a man empathetic to issues that cross wealth and class.
His mother’s depression and alcoholism shaped who he is today, Pritzker told me.
“She struggled mightily,” he said, recalling her trips to treatment facilities and Alcohol Anonymous meetings. “She tried very hard to make sure we kids knew that she loved us. She made sure we knew that she had a disease and that things she did were under the influence of that disease. In retrospect, I view her as a hero. Her courage is an important marker for me.”