SAH Newsletter

Obituary: John William (Bill) Locke (1938–2021)

by Keith Bringe | Sep 15, 2021

JOHN WILLIAM (BILL) LOCKE passed away at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on September 7, 2021.

A librarian by training and trade, Bill Locke was a beloved volunteer leader for several important Chicago cultural organizations. He eschewed the spotlight, but his contributions were strategic and vitally important. He was a bridge-builder between groups and people - always facilitating cooperation and serving mutual best interests of the non-profits.

In the early 2000’s, Bill worked to revive the Chicago Chapter of the international non-profit Society of Architectural Historians (SAHCC) and served as a board officer for over a decade.  Bill served as Treasurer and coordinated dozens of programs including complex day-long excursions and the Chapter’s “Show and Tell” programs – wrangling up to 12 speakers and their slide shows and serving as emcee for many events. 

Bill served as co-chair of the Caxton Club’s lunchtime programs coordinating arrangement and speakers.  He was an active board member for Shaw Chicago (now defunct). A longtime member of the Chicago Art Deco Society (CADS), Bill supported the Chicago Art Deco Survey and efforts to publish the book “Art Deco Chicago”.  He was an ardent supporter of historic preservation and loved Chicago’s treasury of architectural jewels.

He was also an active member of the Cliff Dwellers Club from 2004.  Bill sponsored many programs at  the club, often bringing together members from SAHCC, the American Institute of Architects, Chicago Art Deco Society, Friends of Downtown and many more.

Bill loved the Newberry Library and worked there briefly as a young man, returning in retirement as a volunteer.  The Newberry’s Curator Emeritus Paul Gehl reflects, “Bill was a significant presence around the Newberry as a volunteer in several capacities.  He was a diligent worker who never asked for credit, the epitome of the best tradition of American volunteerism. And of course, as a former senior librarian and manager, he understood both how much a volunteer could accomplish. I can add that he was always a calm and gentle friend to me, a man about the neighborhood, always well met.”

A native Chicagoan, Locke attended South Shore High School then matriculated from Illinois Wesleyan.  Bill earned his Master’s in Library Science from the University of Chicago and served as Director of the Harold Washington College Library for 35 years.  He received a Distinguished Professor Award from the College.

Bill is survived by his wife of 60 years Judy (née Rehnquist), three sons: David, John (Marsha) and Robert (Jean) Locke and his grandson Hayden as well as legions of friends and grateful compatriots. Bill is preceded in death by his parents Verly and John Locke.  A memorial is being planned for a future date.

Bill joined SAH in 1963 and was a member for 58 years. He enjoyed participating in SAH annual conferences and study tours, particularly those in the U.S. Among his favorite tours were those organized by Arts and Crafts historians Pamela D. Kingsbury and the late Robert Winter. 

Memorial contributions can be made to:
The Newberry Library, 66 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60610 or
Society of Architectural Historians/Charnley Persky House Museum, 1365 North Astor Street, Chicago, IL 60610

Condolences:  Judy Locke, 1030 North State Street, 17B, Chicago, IL 60610


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610