Chicago businessman, philanthropist, maven of design, Richard H. Driehaus dies at 78

By Mateusz Janik, Senior Reporter

Sedona Steffens

Richard H. Driehaus was an avid appreciator of architecture and fashion design and a devoted philanthropist who believed in providing resources to support individuals in the pursuit of their own success, while living his life with gratitude for those who helped him along the way.

Driehaus was also a big supporter of fashion and design students, including those at Columbia.

“I could go on for hours and say terrific things about [Driehaus], but one of the things that really has always stood out to me is that he was a man of humility,” said Anne Lazar, executive director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a foundation which awards $5 million annually in grants that support individuals and organizations across Chicago. “He always remained very, very grounded as an individual.”

Driehaus, who was the chief investment officer and founder of his own investment firm, Driehaus Capital Management, died at 78 on March 9 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital due to a cerebral hemorrhage.

Known for his charitable donations and the highly coveted invitations to his annual birthday bashes at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, Driehaus devoted most of his time and money to various programs and individuals through the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Trusts, which help improve and preserve communities and buildings across Chicago.

“He was a big supporter and fan of all things Chicago, … and I think that was reflected in the way he spent his money,” said Laura Washington, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist and ABC-7 Chicago analyst. “Wealthy people who make a lot of money usually leave the city or they don’t have this strong base. … That was always important to him, to continue to connect and support Chicago.”

Growing up in Brainerd on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Washington said Driehaus always gave back to his community and cared about improving the city in different ways. She said he helped fund news coverage at the Chicago Reporter and funded investigative journalism at other outlets such as the Better Government Association.

He was also known for awarding grants to fashion and design students, as well as helping fund college departments through the Driehaus Design Initiative, a nonprofit organization that offers grants to fashion studies departments at Columbia College Chicago, Dominican University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lazar said the initiative is “an opportunity to support emerging fashion designers and showcase their talents” while networking with other designers and creating pathways to further their careers.

“He already had such a keen understanding of the challenges that designers face, particularly designers that chose to stay in the city,” said Melissa Gamble, assistant professor in the Fashion Studies Department. “He was able to direct the funding that he gave to the fashion community and the designers.”

Gamble, who served on the board of directors of the Driehaus Design Initiative from 2010 till 2013, said events like the Driehaus Design Awards offered students the opportunity to showcase their work and win cash prizes.

Though his main point of contact with students was through Driehaus Design Awards, Gamble said she and others in the Fashion Studies Department would often send updates about what certain students were doing and how the grant money was being used.

Colbey Reid, chair of the Fashion Studies Department, said she did not have much of a relationship with Driehaus outside of grants and award shows, but she knows his charitable nature made a professional impact on fashion students and the fashion industry in Chicago.

Reid said his treatment of fashion as a design space was “exciting” and “valuable” to the scene, especially in Chicago.

“He clearly wanted to make a difference in the life of students of fashion,” Reid said.

Driehaus is survived by his two sisters and three daughters, Tereza, Caroline and Kate.