Someone should leave a seat open at the bar at Italian Village in memory of James "Jimmy" Willems.
Many in the municipal bond community in Chicago gather at the restaurant's bar in the city's Loop to talk shop and conduct business. And for Mr. Willems, a 45-year veteran muni bond salesman and trader who died last week at 70, Italian Village was a second office, of sorts, for years.
It was one of the places where he got to know his clients, his colleagues at Mesirow Financial and many others in the industry over the years. It was where he found more than a few solutions to clients' investment needs. And it was one of the places where he would take the time to pass along to younger sales staff the wisdom he accrued over his decades in the business.
From his first job at Halsey, Stuart & Co., to his last 20 years at Mesirow, Mr. Willems regarded municipal bond sales as first and foremost a relationship business, according to colleagues at Mesirow.
Bob Racanelli, a senior vice president at Mesirow, co-covered many accounts with Mr. Willems. He remembers how Mr. Willems would finish his work and then call up the younger staffers on an account to explain how the business worked.
"He'd do the business and then call them back to talk to them about things he thought were interesting to help them learn, and these guys were very appreciative of that," Racanelli said. "He talked to the senior-most guy, but also was the type who enjoyed talking to the new assistant trader."
Joe Wark, a managing director in sales, remembers the attitude and effort Willems applied to his work and co-workers at Mesirow.
"He was the ideal of a professional, a gentleman," Wark said. "If I moved one of his accounts to another salesman, Jimmy would go out of his way to give him the background information about every individual involved that he'd covered for years and years there."
Cyd Bloom, a senior municipal trader who sat across from Willems for 15 years and knew him twice as long, said he spent a lot of time helping others in his personal time.
"He was very community-oriented and very service-driven," Bloom said. "He was a participant in the Boys & Girls Club for many, many years. He gave of his time, his money, his service."