Judy Baar Topinka dies at 70

Judy Baar Topinka
Judy Baar Topinka

By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor

Judy Baar Topinka — Illinois comptroller, former candidate for Illinois governor and longtime elected state official — died early Wednesday, Dec. 10, from complications of a stroke suffered Tuesday, Dec. 9. She was 70.

Topinka was to be inaugurated next month for her second four-year term as Illinois comptroller after being re-elected in November.

According to reports, Topinka died shortly after 1 a.m., Dec. 10. She was taken to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn Tuesday morning, Dec. 9, after feeling discomfort. According to an official statement, Topinka was undergoing testing and observation when she lost consciousness early Wednesday.

Topinka’s public career spanned more than three decades. She was first elected to the Illinois House in 1980, representing the Seventh District until 1982. She then served the 43rd District in the Illinois House from 1982 to 1984.

Topinka was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1985, and served until 1995. She then served as Illinois Treasurer from 1995 to 2007.

Topinka was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006, losing to incumbent Rod Blagojevich. She has served as Illinois Comptroller since 2011.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, “Ms. Topinka was known for an eclectic persona that coupled her preferences for clothes shopping at resale stores and fondness for dogs with a blunt speak-her-mind attitude largely absent in today’s politics.”

The Tribune added: “Ms. Topinka played the piano, guitar and the accordion and once said she would ‘polka with anyone, anytime.’”

Topinka was born Jan. 16, 1944, in the Chicago suburb of Riverside, Illinois. Her parents — William and Lillian Baar — were children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. She graduated from Ferry Hall High School in Lake Forest in 1962, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

After graduating from college, Topinka worked as a reporter for a number of suburban newspapers, eventually becoming an editor. While working as a reporter and editor, Topinka also established her own public relations firm, through which she began consulting numerous political candidates.

Topinka married Joe Topinka in 1965. They had one son, Joseph, before divorcing in 1981.

Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner (R) issued the following statement Dec. 10: “Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. Comptroller Topinka’s magnetic, one-of-a-kind personality brought a smile to everyone she met, and she had a servant’s heart, always only caring about what was best for the people of our state. Judy was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to her family, including son Joseph, as well as her talented and loyal team in the Comptroller’s office.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) said in a statement: “Today, our state has suffered a great loss. Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer, a true public servant and a friend to all. Always jubilant and straight-talking, Judy spoke her mind on every issue. Even during tough political times, Judy always worked across party lines to get things done and brought humor and joy to everything she did. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford (R) said: “I am saddened to hear about the sudden passing of my friend State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. She was a trailblazer for women in public service in Illinois, and in general. My heart and prayers are with the Comptroller’s family and staff at this time.”

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) said: “Judy Baar Topinka brought a special approach to every aspect of life. Illinois is a much better place because of her efforts.”

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (D), who ran against Topinka in the race for Comptroller, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of Judy Baar Topinka’s passing. People throughout Illinois will remember her for her many years of dedication to public service just as much as they will remember her for her larger than life personality. She truly loved the people of this state. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and staff as we mourn the loss of a legend in Illinois government.”

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said: “I served with or worked with Judy for 21 years. You didn’t have to spend more than 5 minutes with her to know what she was like. She worked hard, she played hard, she was fun and just a little bit crazy. While she never took herself too seriously, she took the job of safeguarding taxpayer dollars very seriously. For many years, she was the leader in putting sunshine on the abuse of tax dollars. Judy was a true champion of the people, and fought hard to increase government transparency and accountability. I would ask that we all keep her family in thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, added: “Judy was an amazing public servant and friend — she will be deeply missed. In a business where political expediency is the norm, Judy always stuck to her guns and did what she thought was right. She was a great example to so many people for so many years, and Illinois simply won’t be the same without her.”

Posted Dec. 10, 2014

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