By Judy Carmack Bross
Her email address said it all: Fabflo.
Florri McMillan, the award-winning writer, arresting artist, unmatchable raconteur, and purposeful Buddhist who died August 3 had yet another remarkable trait.
Not only did you want to listen to Florri, but she also wanted to listen to you. She always focused her luminous brown eyes right on you, stopped whatever she was doing, and truly heard what you said. We at Classic Chicago were fortunate to publish pure Florri in an article she wrote about her beloved Door County in 2017 and would like to share parts of it and some of her photos with you. Not only does it capture her prize-winning writing style but also her voice, her humor, and total read on her surroundings. Who didn’t know that Florri always had something fabulous to say?
But before sharing we couldn’t help marvel at her participation in many local Chicago cultural, civic, and health organizations, including the Women’s Boards of the Lyric Opera and of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. John Nelson, President of the Quadrangle Players, recalled her time with that historic group:
“Florri was a special person, full of energy, curiosity, vivaciousness and enthusiasm. Given her past bouts with threatening illnesses and bouncing back with her characteristic positive attitude and indomitable spirit make it hard to write about her in the past tense. She was truly a “Life Force”. One to be admired and, if possible, emulated.”
Many of her friends loved to hang out at the Ravenswood studio where she was one of about 40 artists who often presented group shows. Hers was a true talent for abstract painting and the colors she chose matched the vibrancy of her life. Florri on those occasions was hostess to all.
Her long-time friend Adrian Foster captures what was fun and fab about Florri:
“On her final day, Florri and I had a long phone chat about the upcoming Bad Taste Party she was planning to have at her home in Egg Harbor. One male guest, she said, was coming in Depend diapers. She was looking for more outrageous food ideas. I suggested tuna noodle casserole brimming with chips, pigs in a blanket, and Spam.
“It was a gleeful conversation, typical of Florri, and the last of our twenty-year friendship. During that period we exchanged views on just about everything and seldom agreed on anything. A plaque she gave me recently sums up our relationship. It reads “I’D AGREE WITH YOU BUT THEN WE’D BOTH BE WRONG”.
“There was never a rule Florri didn’t try to bend. During the pandemic, the Monday Class switched to Zoom in lieu of in-person sessions at a nearby private club. For the event Florri showed up for a class on camera in sunglasses and a bathing suit stretched out on a lounge chair on the beach.
“Uniquely herself, Florri was fearless, resilient and whip smart. She is bound to shake things up on the other side.”
Several years ago McMillan won first prize in a story contest sponsored by American Fiction, an annual collection featuring the best unpublished short stories by emerging writers. McMillan`s prizewinner, ”The Color of Scars,” was chosen by novelist Anne Tyler.
We loved publishing McMillan’s peek behind the scenes at Door County where she contributed so much to the cultural community and encouraged young writers. Enjoy excerpts and photos from her article below:
Ephraim Harbor and the Moravian church
“The story goes that some pretty successful Irishmen from Green Bay built getaway cottages for themselves in the 1920s along Lake Michigan and the Bay. Without basements, heat, or phones they took their leisure. It was the beginning of a summer schedule for many Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee families which saw the mothers and their children debark for the summer to avoid pollen, creepy crawlers, and worldly cares. Many husbands and fathers stayed in Chicago at home or at their clubs, joining their families for the month of August.
“Five-generation Chicago families are not unusual in Door County
Certain unassailable rules govern the activities of Cottage Row residents in Fish Creek. Cocktails, wherever you are invited, are from 6:00 to 6:45. Those who drive sit in their automobiles until 5:59. Seniors who stroll over start fifteen minutes early. No one sits around discussing where to go for dinner. Theirs’ is in the oven! Some people go to two cocktail parties on the same evening. This is called “double-dipping” and is somewhat frowned upon. We all know who you are.
“Longtime residents have rolled with the punch as gentle, shabby cottages have acquired television, air conditioning, and even WIFI. God is respected (especially during tornados) and bats are tolerated. Yes, there are Jet Skis; yes, there is a championship golf club. As one member was overheard to say, “Honestly, this place is getting as bad as the Hamptons!”
Wilson’s Ice Cream Parlor circa 1872
“Chicago activities (and arguments) in Door County are all about games and contests. Treasure Hunts and softball games are de rigeur. No one cheats at jigsaw puzzles. You have to do your own charade when it’s your turn. Yes, you do. Grandparents cannot go paddleboarding without a child alone.
“The most important social affairs in Door County do not take place at clubs or the many fine restaurants. Like bridge games, they mostly take place at church. This is Pot Luck Country. The season peaks in February when it is below zero and ends when you plant your tomato seeds in paper cups. Of the utmost importance is one’s signature dish, the one everyone hopes you will bring. Meat gets you an extra point. Deviled eggs is always good. Molded jello can be iffy, but there’s always Caesar salad.”
Egg Harbor sunset
Where ever Chicago and Door County’s FabFlo, went fun followed. We see their mother in her four children, William, Marcia, Sally, and Phoebe, and grieve with them, her wider family and legion of friends.