Hundreds of politicians, friends and colleagues gathered Saturday to remember Dawn Clark Netsch, who many described as an iconic woman in the Democratic party.
“Dawn Netsch more than anyone in the history of the state of Illinois, gave generations of Illinois women the example and the confidence to run for office,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.
Netsch, the first woman nominated to run for governor, died March 5 from complications of ALS. She was 86.
An array of politicians spoke at the memorial service, held at Northwestern University School of Law Saturday afternoon.
A letter from President Barack Obama was read at the service, admiring the inspiration Netsch offered to women.
“From graduating first in a law school class of no other women, to being the first female to hold statewide office in Illinois, Dawn refused to accept gender as an obstacle to success,” the letter said. “In Dawn’s memory, let us continue to build a nation where the doors of opportunity open wide for all willing to dream big.”
Many described Netsch as fearless, but with a great sense of humor.
Durbin recalled memories of Netsch as an original member of the group if Democrats in the General Assembly known as the “Crazy 8.” He remembered a particular meeting where another member, Kenneth Buzbee, told Netsch if she wanted to “run with the boys” she needed to “talk like one of the boys.”
“Dawn answered, ‘Listen Buzbee, I was one of the boys before you were one of the boys,” Durbin said.
Speakers remembered Netsch’s infamous commercial ad, where she was seen shooting pool tricks to represent her as a “straight shooter.” Many cited the commercial as what propelled Netsch into the political spotlight.
But the messages always returned to how Netsch paved the way for many women in politics and leadership.
“Each chapter in Dawn Clark Netsch’s life is a great story,” Durbin said. “Triumphs over sexism, cynicism. Triumphs over the mundane. But her legacy is found in the women of Illinois who have been inspired to public office because of Dawn Netsch. It takes a special brand of talent and determination to lead.”