Robert Baskin Rosen, the founder and Chairman of the MPN Research Foundation, passed away on Thursday, January 4, from complications following a bone marrow transplant to treat Myelofibrosis. He was 74 years old.
A longtime real estate executive who lived in Lincoln Park, he attended Highland Park High School, studied at Brown University, and receieved an MBA from Northwestern University. Rosen rose to the highest echelons of Chicago’s industrial real estate world, and leaves behind a powerful legacy in the business community and intellectual circles of his beloved city.
In 1997, Rosen was diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera, a rare and slow-moving blood cancer. In characteristic fashion, he responded to the diagnosis by by forming the MPN Research Foundation, which raises money to fund research into this variety of rare blood disorders.
In the early years of the Foundation, working on a shoestring budget, Rosen applied his business acumen to the decidedly non-businesslike environment of academic research. According to a former board member at the MPN Research Foundation, he “was instrumental in growing focus on the MPN family of blood diseases among the blood-cancer related scientific community. The establishment of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) with the leading MPN scientists in the world was a huge step forward.” Since its inception, the MPN Research Foundation has raised $20 million.
Robert Rosen was born on May 6, 1943, the son of Solomon and Carolyn Rosen. His father was the first American-born child of a Polish and Belarus family that immigrated to Chicago prior to World War One, as a new wave of anti-Semitism was sweeping across Europe. Likewise, his mother’s family left Russia shortly before the First World War.
An avid outdoorsman and athlete, Rosen was an active Boy Scout, and later in life, he’d take his family on long trips-down the Missouri river retracing the journey of Lewis and Clark, skiing in Colorado, and summer hiking excursions in Wyoming. He never stopped playing tennis and basketball, and was a dedicated fan of the White Sox, Bears and Bulls. He had many hobbies, including woodworking and black-and-white photography, and was a dog lover who doted over two rescue mutts-Scannon and Duke-that still have starring roles in family stories.
While attending Northwestern in the late 1960s, Rosen joined the Air National Guard, and would later get his pilot’s license, setting in motion a lifelong love of aviation that in later years manifested mostly in a dedication to the history of flying, rather than the flying itself. After he earned his business degree, he joined Chicago’s premier industrial real estate firm, Bennett and Kahnweiler, and was mentored by the legendary Marshall Bennett. B&K was a hard charging, take-no-prisoners outfit, and Rosen excelled in the high-pressure environment, quickly making his name by brokering a deal with the Pritzker family to develop the Centex Industrial Park. In the early 1980s, Rosen moved to Frain Camins & Swartchild. He was one of the first brokers on the staff, and was instrumental in growing the company to more 150 employees before it was sold in 1998.
“Bob was always the devil’s advocate, the person who would listen, challenge what you’re trying to do, and come back with thoughtful commentary,” says Ron Frain, Chairman of the Board. “He was the philosophical one.”
When Rosen was diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera in 1997, he kept a toe in the real estate world, but focused most of his attention on the MPN Foundation and his family and friends. Along with Ellen, his wife of more than 46 years, Rosen found unchanging refuge in all seasons at the small lakeside community of Sleepy Hollow, in South Haven, Michigan. Here, he was an active board member and was rarely happier than when his three children and four grandchildren would come stay throughout the summer. During the day, he’d bike the Cal-Haven Trail, play tennis, and stretch out his 6’6″ frame on a pool chair, Chicago Tribune in hand, to talk politics or spin yarns about his own childhood. Before dusk, he’d grill bratwursts he’d picked up at Gepperth’s or Gene’s in Chicago. Some nights he’d drive into South Haven for an ice cream cone at Sherman’s Ice Cream.
In Chicago, Rosen moved from his beloved brownstone on North Dayton Street, where he and his family lived for 34 years, to an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. But he remained a member (as well as a member of the board) of the Standard Club. Here, he worked out and played basketball as often as possible. He also sat on the board of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Oscar Mayer Parents Group, the 2314 Condo Board, the Sleepy Hollow Condo Board, and served as a player on the Senior Olympics basketball team.
This summer, his Polycythemia Vera abruptly converted to Myelofibrosis, and Rosen set up camp in his eldest daughter’s house in Manhattan as he underwent treatment at Weill Cornell. Between walks around the city, holding court at weekly Shabbat dinners, and meetings with doctors, Rosen undertook editing a memoir that he had spent the past few years writing. He remained philosophical to the end: “I love my life. A highlight is grandchildren. But it comes with a lingering concern that the close enriching relationships I enjoyed with my own grandparents and their families will not be replicated; that my own grandchildren will not know me well enough to confer a little of that immortality that comes from remembering.” He needn’t worry.
In addition to Ellen, Rosen is survived by three children, Rebecca, Molly, and Zachary, three siblings, Joyce, Laurence, and Richard, countless cousins, and innumerable close friends. He adored his four grandchildren, Roxy (11), Simon (8), Sunny (5), and Coco (2), and they adored him back. To them, he will always be remembered as Grandpa Bea.