Dawn Clark Netsch, an icon of state politics who made history in Illinois as the first woman nominated to run for governor, has died.
Netsch died peacefully in her sleep at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday from complications of ALS. She was 86.
Netsch announced her diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in January.
"It’s a tough one," she said sitting in the kitchen of the Near North Side home she shared with her late husband, famed architect Walter Netsch.
Asked why it was important to speak of her disease, Netsch did not hesitate.
"Might get more people thinking about what is ALS," she said, noting, "I’m going to be straight about this also."
That was her slogan -- straight shooter -- when she ran and lost to Jim Edgar in the 1994 governor’s race. She was the first woman elected on a major ticket to run for governor in Illinois.
In 1990 she broke the glass ceiling, elected State Comptroller, the first woman to win a statewide race. Netsch helped rewrite the state constitution in 1970 and shortly after won a state senate seat.
A native of Cincinnati, Netsch attended Northwestern University where she fought for the school to integrate its dorms. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. In 1952 and again in 1956 she worked on the unsuccessful presidential campaigns of Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson.
Her 1994 race for governor helped forge a new and lasting image for Netsch: the prim and proper senator/Comptroller/law professor shooting pool. She learned to play in high school.
"And I was doggone good at that time," she said with a wide smile.