Rod Nesbitt, 1952–2010

Julie, Rod, and son David

Julie, Rod, and son David

“Rod will be remembered for his huge warm laugh, deep reassuring voice, and generous healing spirit.” That sentence, from Rod’s obit, says so much.

An article about this wonderful man appeared in the Chicago Tribune after his passing:

Roderick Nesbitt was a healer of bodies and lives in his work as a substance-abuse counselor and massage therapist.

“He showed respect and appreciation for each person because of who they are — and would always do it with a smile,” said Bill Geiger, president and CEO of the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, where Mr. Nesbitt worked as a massage therapist.

Mr. Nesbitt, 58, died in Swedish Covenant Hospital after suffering a heart attack Sunday, July 4 [2010].

He started working at the YMCA in 2005, shortly after he graduated from the Soma Institute, a massage school. During his five years at the YMCA, Mr. Nesbitt became a friend and mentor to his colleagues and patients.

“He so enjoyed everybody he met and made people feel valued,” Geiger said.

Mr. Nesbitt, the youngest of four siblings, was born in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. His mother, Peggy, was a kindergarten teacher. His father, Lendor, was an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Rod Nesbitt, 1971

Rod Nesbitt, 1971

After graduating from Francis W. Parker School, Roderick Nesbitt spent most of the 1970s pursuing a career as an actor. He did a short stint as a member of Chicago’s Body Politic Theatre, and later moved to New York City, where he hoped to land an acting role.

“He couldn’t get any good parts,” said Prexy Nesbitt, his cousin.

Mr. Nesbitt then moved to Wisconsin, where his parents lived in retirement. The death of a family member in the mid-1980s made him rethink his career path, and he went back to school to become a substance-abuse therapist.

During an Independence Day barbecue in 1989, Mr. Nesbitt met his soon-to-be wife, Julie.

“We just fell in love.” – Julie Parson Nesbitt“We just fell in love,” Julie Parson Nesbitt said Monday. The couple married two years later.

In 1994, they moved to Milwaukee, where Mr. Nesbitt worked as a substance-abuse therapist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“Rod was a man of tremendous generosity,” said Mr. Nesbitt’s sister, Ann. Among the many people he helped was a homeless woman who was pregnant and abusing drugs, she said. Mr. Nesbitt helped her find a home and guided her through rehabilitation.

In 1996, Mr. Nesbitt and his wife returned to Chicago to be closer to their family. He continued working in Milwaukee until 2005, when he became a part-time massage therapist at the McGaw YMCA to have more free time with his son, David, now 5.

“Breakthroughs from talk therapy occurred rarely, but with only 30 minutes of massage therapy, the benefits are immediate,” Mr. Nesbitt was quoted as saying in a YMCA profile.

Mr. Nesbitt also is survived by his brothers, Reese and Robin.

Download this article as a PDF

Karen Pritztger and Rod Nesbitt in Rain Maker

Karen and Rod in Rain Maker

I was in touch with Rod after our reunion in 2006. He shared that he was ready to attend a class reunion and was planning to attend our next one. He had stayed away because he had felt obliged to “play the larger-than-life character of Rod Nesbitt” rather than just be himself. He said he’d gotten over that. Here’s a note he sent to us at that time:

Dear Friends,

Sending “hellos” and warm wishes to you all, from many years past.

I was happy and encouraged to see so many names on the e-mail messages being sent back-and-forth regarding the recent gatherings at Parker, and the 35th Class Reunion of the 1971. I’m sending my regrets, as I had planned to attend the Friday evening event, but could not due to illness.

I keep telling myself to make an entry on our alumni web site, to update you all on some of the developments in my life, and still intend to do so. But, I’d like to give you a few milestones by which to mark a little of my time, since we were together.

First, I’m not dead, which was an entertaining, if not alarming, rumor I heard about myself, some 20 years ago. I did leave Chicago in the mid-70’s, and spent 5 years in Manhattan. From there, I moved to small-town South Central Wisconsin. Then, back to Chicago, and returned to Wisconsin. I had decided that I had had enough of Urban America when I met my wife, Julie Parson, a talented and widely known poet of the Chicago tradition. We married in 1991 and moved to Pittsburgh. Gravity (and family ties) seemed to pull us back to the MidWest, and we lived for a time in Milwaukee, where I worked at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, as an Addiction Therapist, treating homeless veterans with multiple mental health disorders. This was a very formative time for me, and influenced much of who I am, today – I was newly married, and working in the most important and spiritually inflamed job I could imagine. We moved back to Chicago in 1996, and I continued to commute to Milwaukee, to work. By 2004, I needed to change my career. I completed my education and training courses as a Clinical Massage Therapist, and am currently Licensed in the State of Illinois, working at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, at Solay Wellness in Skokie, and providing house-calls for select clients.

17 months ago, Julie and I embarked on the last (?) and greatest chapter of our lives. We adopted the most beautiful 2-week-old baby boy, and everything has been turned upside-down, and (so it appears) right-side-up. Being late bloomers in the parenting business is proving to be very challenging, but rewarding beyond description. So, what should come more to my mind than exploring the possibilities of having David Lendor Nesbitt (named after his 2 grandfathers) attending Parker. This is the perfect reason for me to stay more in touch with you and the extended Parker Family who provided so much support to me and my family members for many years.

That’s it, in a nut-shell. I hope to hear from you, and plan to send a brochure to you, in the mail, so you can see what I’m doing professionally, and – those who live in the Chicago area – avail yourselves of my services.

It’s nice to make contact with you, again. Hope to hear from you, see you in the future, and hear more about your families.

I’ll be in attendance at the 2011 Reunion.

Peace –

Rod’s wife Julie sent this note to the Parker community shortly after his passing:

Dear Friends,

I am deeply sad to tell you that my beautiful husband Rod passed away this morning from a massive heart attack. It has been a long day so I will just say that his funeral will be Tuesday, July 6th [2010] at 1pm at Francis Parker School, 330 W. Webster, the front door is on Clark St. between Belden and Webster. My email address is to reach me- please do not hit reply to this message as I probably will not check this email for a while. For questions about the funeral you can call Drake Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Ave Chicago, I’m sorry I don’t have the phone number here.

He was much loved and will be deeply missed.

David and I send our love


There is an online guestbook where friends have shared memories and thoughts about Rod. You’ll find notes there form several Parkerites, including our own Biddy Sabusawa. It is scheduled to be taken offline a year after his passing, but I have saved a copy which you can download:

Here’s the obit from the Tribune:

Roderick George Nesbitt, 58, passed away suddenly at Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago. Son of the late Dr. Lendor Conrad Nesbitt and Peggy (Reese) Nesbitt; beloved husband of Julie Parson Nesbitt; adored father of David Lendor Nesbitt. Rod is also survived by brothers, Reese and Robin; sister, Ann; mother-in-law, Barbara Parson; in-laws, Annie-B Parson, Paul Lazar, Kevin Donnellon; nieces, Carrie, Lily, and Heather Roanne; nephew, Jack; cousins, Prexy, Kay (Willis), Karen, Paul, Maria, Phillip (Ginger), their children and many close family and friends.

Born April 16, 1952, Rod graduated from Francis W. Parker School. He worked in the healing professions as a substance abuse therapist for homeless veterans at Milwaukee Veteran’s Administration and most recently as a warmly respected massage therapist at McGaw YMCA.

Rod will be remembered for his huge warm laugh, deep reassuring voice, and generous healing spirit. Services have been held.

Donations to McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St., Evanston, IL, 60201 or Francis W. Parker School. Info: 773-561-6874.

Report on the memorial service held at Parker from Betsy Bergan Altman:

Thanks for the heads up on Rod’s memorial service at FWP.

It was a lovely service. We all sat on the stage (reconfigured from our days in the space and the renovated auditorium is beautiful). They planned for 120 people and added 20 additional seats. It was noteworthy that people came from all classes honoring his extended family as much as Rod.

As I sat on the stage, I remembered the musical Oklahoma in which I am relatively certain Rod played the lead. I could hear his lyrical and thunderous singing and remembered one set scene of a farmyard with a wagon on which he sang the song.

Steve Levitt played guitar as we entered.


From FWP principal Dan Frank: “Sad news about Rod Nesbitt ’71:”

Dear Friends,

With deep sadness, I write to tell you that our friend, Rod Nesbitt ’71, died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday morning. What a kind and gentle man who has touched our lives in various ways over the years.

There will be a funeral service at Francis W. Parker School, 330 West Webster Avenue, in the Auditorium on Tuesday July 6th at 1 pm.

Rod will be buried at Rosehill Cemetary after the service. The family will hold a reception following the burial and will announce the location of the reception at the service.

Rod is survived by his wife, Julie, and their son, David. The Nesbitt family has had a long relationship to Parker spanning decades. Rod’s mother, Peggy, taught kindergarten at Parker for many years, and, along with his siblings, RoAnne ’64, Robin ’64 and Reese ’68, his cousins, Prexy ’62, Kay and Karen Whitmore ’63, all attended Parker as students. Rod and Julie were also Parker parents for a period of time.

Julie Nesbitt also gave me this additional information:

Cards can be sent to:
Julie Parson Nesbitt
6639 N. Fairfield Avenue
Chicago, Illinois. 60645

Donations can be sent to:
Francis W. Parker School
330 West Webster Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60614

1000 Grove Street
Evanston, Illinois 60601

I am sure you all join me in extending the Parker community’s most sincere condolences to Rod’s family.

Respectfully and sadly,

Dan Frank

Rod’s mom, Peggy M. Nesbitt,  was one of our kindergarten teachers. She passed away at the age of 82, just one year before Rod.

Read more

You can also read the story of Julie, Rod and David.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email