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Greg Tweedy, 55, railroad man, brother of Wilco founder, dies

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:10AM



Wilco fans are taking to the band’s Facebook page to express condolences to Jeff Tweedy on the loss of his older brother, Greg Tweedy, who died Sunday of heart and kidney failure at his Belleville home.

Mr. Tweedy, 55, did maintenance for the Alton & Southern Railway. He was the third of four children in the family. They grew up southeast of St. Louis, in Belleville, Illinois’ largest city south of Springfield. Their father, Robert L. Tweedy, was a railroad man for about 46 years.

His younger brother, Jeff Tweedy, founded the alt-country-rock band Wilco, and is the husband of Sue Miller, who helped run the popular Chicago club Lounge Ax.

Mr. Tweedy struggled with health problems over the past 18 years. He maintained railroad tracks, clearing them of debris and filling in holes with gravel to keep the ties stable, said his wife, Robin. In 1995, he was standing atop a railroad car filled with gravel when another car bumped it from behind. “He was buried in the gravel,” she said. “It tore up a bunch of stuff in his knee.” After that, he walked with a cane.

His father followed him to the hospital after that mishap — only to see his son’s ambulance get in another accident before it made it to the hospital, Robin Tweedy said.

About five years ago, Mr. Tweedy suffered his first heart attack. He had another, massive heart attack last year. Despite his pain, he comforted his father, who waited and worried near the emergency room. “When they wheeled him out, he said, ‘Don’t worry, dad, I’m going to get her done,’ ” Robin Tweedy said, “trying to make his dad feel better.’’

Mr. Tweedy was one of his brother’s biggest fans. “He says he bought Jeff his first guitar,” his wife said. Whether they needed help with tickets or a bouncer, he was there, she said. “He would fix Jeff’s van for the band so they could keep going.”

Whenever his musician-brother performed nearby, he attended the concerts. But he just couldn’t get over seeing crowds around the band’s bus, waiting to get a glimpse of the Wilco front man. “He was real proud of him, but he was like, ‘I just don’t get it. That’s my baby brother.’ ”

Mr. Tweedy “was the best fisherman I’ve ever seen,” she said. He seemed to intuit how to catch bass, which he usually threw back. He had good advice on which lure colors and bait they might like, and how to wiggle a line to catch their attention.

He was a true gentleman, his wife said — the kind of man who did the right thing, even when no one was looking. “He always held the door open for everyone going in and out of the store,” she said. “If something fell off the shelf, he was the one who would pick it up.”

In addition to fishing, he enjoyed flea markets and auctions. He always looked for Hot Wheel cars, green Depression glass and cobalt-blue glass. When he was healthy, he loved bicycling. He could ride more than 20 miles a day.

He was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Belleville.

Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville, where funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday. Burial is to follow at Lake View Memorial Gardens in Downstate Fairview Heights.

In addition to his wife, father and brother, Mr. Tweedy is survived by his children, Katie Tweedy and Erin Chandler; his stepson, Nick Broyles; another brother, Steven Tweedy; his sister, Debbie Voll, and three grandchildren, Ella, Nichole and Shelby. He was preceded in death by his mother, JoAnn Werkmeister Tweedy; his son, Robert G. Tweedy, Jr., who died in an accident at age 28; and his infant son, Andrew J. Tweedy, who died of a heart ailment when he was just a few days old. Mr. Tweedy’s family asked that memorials be made to the American Heart Association.

Jeff Tweedy once wrote a song, “Please Tell My Brother.” It is included on a recording by a side project, Golden Smog. It has been compared to a Woody Guthrie tune for its plaintive, heartfelt lyrics about traveling coast-to-coast, and missing family. It contained the lyrics:

“Please tell my brothers I love them still

Over the mountains on their phone bill

I should call more often

But they know I never will

Please tell my brothers I love them still.

Please tell my sister I miss her too

My nieces and nephews and their swimming pools

When I think about her

Her skies are blue

Please tell my sister I miss her too

Please tell my father I love him still

Forget the railroad and all those bills

Head for the cooler

And drink your fill

Please tell my father I love him still

Listen dear mother, I miss you the most

And as I travel from coast to coast

I feel your love an’

I feel your ghost

Listen dear mother, I miss you the most

Listen dear mother, I miss you the most.”

Email: modonnell@suntimes.com

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