Richard L. Duchossois, a native of Chicago, a decorated war hero, renowned businessman and horseracing icon, passed away peacefully at his home in Barrington Hills, Illinois on January 28, 2022.
Duchossois was known for his top-down management style, his exacting business principles, his customer service-oriented philosophies and his commitment to quality as evidenced in every workplace with his oft-repeated admonition, “Don’t expect what you didn’t inspect.” His meticulous attention to detail was applied with military precision across all aspects of his life, down to his double-breasted suits and pocket scarves. Sightings of an impeccably dressed “Mr. D,” as he was affectionately called, walking the halls of his businesses were a common occurrence.
Duchossois was the embodiment of perseverance. Of the many organizations in Duchossois’ business portfolio over the period of his professional career, many would come to associate him most with Arlington Park, the thoroughbred racetrack located in Arlington Heights, Ill. After an electrical fire destroyed the entire facility in 1985, the rebuild Duchossois championed set Arlington apart from other racetracks globally, with its striking cantilevered roof, world-class facilities and international stakes races. While a typical response to the complete devastation of the fire would have been to walk away, in a tour-de-force, Duchossois galvanized his employees to hold the famed Arlington Million race just days after the fire. This feat would go down in horseracing legends as the “Miracle Million” and it marked the first time a racetrack was ever awarded racing’s highest honor, the Eclipse Special Award.
Born Oct. 7, 1921, to Ernestine and Alphonse Duchossois in the south Chicago neighborhood of Beverly, Richard Louis Duchossois was destined to lead a life that personified what Americans define as “The Greatest Generation.” In his 100 years of life, Duchossois left an indelible impression on the world as a veteran, entrepreneur, philanthropist, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend.
The second of four siblings, Duchossois attended Morgan Park Military Academy during his formative years.
“I learned (at Morgan Park) discipline of the mind and that you have to try to win,” Duchossois explained in a family business retrospective book, Riding the Rails, published in 2016. “We had a professor of military science and tactics. He always said if we’re going to get ahead, we must be second to none.”
Duchossois credited this philosophy, combined with the leadership, honor and integrity that he learned in his year and a half at Washington and Lee University, as having laid the foundation for his ability to not only survive, but thrive under pressure. These moments would be far from few in his century-long life.
Duchossois was just 20 years old when he was called to service with the U.S. Army following the United States’ entry into World War II. He was assigned to the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion and served as commander of a Tank Destroyer Company throughout five European campaigns under General George S. Patton.
Although once feared for dead from a gunshot wound, Duchossois survived, recovered and returned to the front, leading his company through famed operations such as The Battle of the Bulge. Duchossois was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his sacrifice and, decades later, continued to garner recognition for his service. He received the Order of St. Maurice medallion, an honor that acknowledges both wartime distinction and ongoing character standards and accomplishments, as well as the distinction of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award, presented to him by the French government in Normandy on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014. As a trustee, Duchossois participated in several oral history projects for the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
In July of 1943, Duchossois married his sweetheart Beverly (nee Thrall), who gave birth to their first son Craig in 1944 while Duchossois was on the frontline in Europe. The couple went on to have three more children, Dayle, Bruce, and Kimberly. They settled in Flossmoor, a southwest suburb of Chicago.
Upon his return home from the war, Duchossois was invited to join Beverly’s family’s business, Thrall Car Manufacturing Company - a modest railcar parts and repair company with 35 employees, and a rudimentary yard, based in Chicago Heights, Ill. Despite lacking in business experience, it was at Thrall Car that Duchossois honed his intuitive business instincts: He relentlessly strived for growth and improvement.
By 2001, when it was acquired by Trinity Rail Group, Thrall Car Manufacturing Company had a production capacity of 16,000 rail cars per year and 3,000 employees. Duchossois diversified his company over the years with the purchase of Chamberlain Manufacturing Group, broadcast outlets, Arlington Park and a number of other businesses.
Duchossois lost his wife Beverly to cancer in 1980. Her care and treatment received at The University of Chicago served as the catalyst for Duchossois’ first major philanthropic gift to UCMC in 1978. This gift supported world-renowned experts in lymphoma, Dr. John Ultmann as the first director of the cancer research center at the University of Chicago. The establishment of The Duchossois Family Foundation soon followed. Beverly’s death became the vehicle for the family to support cancer research in partnership with the University of Chicago, as well as initiatives such as Patient Navigation Services with the American Cancer Society, among others.
During his tenure in horseracing, Duchossois brought the 2002 Breeders Cup to Arlington Park, owned one of the leading breeding farms in Illinois, and actively worked to influence and shape the racing industry and its legislation. In 2019, Duchossois was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In 2000, Arlington Park merged with Churchill Downs Incorporated.
“Dick sets a personal standard to which we should all aspire,” said Washington and Lee President Will Dudley in 2018. “His leadership, humility, generosity and dedication to the service of others are an inspiration to all those who know him. We are indebted to him for his ongoing commitment to W&L.”
Among his survivors is wife Mary Judith (nee McKeage) of Barrington, Ill., who he married in 2000 and who has lovingly stood by his side for all business, philanthropic and family endeavors. He is also survived by his son Craig J. Duchossois (Janet) of Chicago, daughter Dayle Duchossois-Fortino (Ed) of Chicago, daughter Kimberly Duchossois of Barrington, Ill., and step-sons Steve Marchi (Sherrie) of Palatine, Ill., and Paul Marchi (Judy) of Palatine, Ill. Duchossois had seven grandchildren (and spouses), two step-grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren. Duchossois’ first wife, Beverly, and their beloved son, R. Bruce Duchossois, predeceased him in 1980 and 2014, respectively.
Up to his final days, Duchossois could be found at his desk planning his next venture, legal pad and pen in hand. To use the Miracle Million team’s motto - which Duchossois loved and had printed on post-cards - “Quit? Hell No!”
No doubt Duchossois is marching on to his next tour. We salute you, soldier.
As a result of COVID-19, to ensure the health and safety of others, there will be no visitation. The funeral and burial services will be immediate family only. In memory of Dick, and in lieu of flowers, you may want to consider a donation to a favorite organization of your choice, the National WWII Museum, 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/give), or Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, 450 West Highway 22, Barrington, IL 60010 (https://advocategiving.org/).