Illinois Governor

Politicians, Friends Remember Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson

The former Illinois governor died Friday night at the age of 84

After the news of former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson passing away Friday night came to light, Illinois politicians and others close to him responded.

Thompson died shortly after 8 p.m. Friday at the age of 84 at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in downtown Chicago, his wife, Jayne Thompson told the Chicago Tribune.

"The Thompson family is mourning the loss of a wonderful husband, father and grandfather," a statement from the family read. "Jim Thompson’s love and devotion to his family mirrored his lifelong dedication to his beloved State of Illinois. His guiding principle in public and private life was to help people and do what he could so they could have an opportunity to succeed. In that process, he achieved big things for Illinois that matched the life he lived."

Due to coronavirus restrictions, the family said they are unable to hold a public wake, but a memorial service will be scheduled in the future.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker praised Thompson for “setting an example for public service” in the state during his time in the executive’s chair.

“On behalf of the entire state of Illinois, MK and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Gov. Jim Thompson,” Pritzker said. “As the longest-serving governor in Illinois history, ‘Big Jim’ was known to treat people he encountered with kindness and decency. He dedicated himself to building positive change for Illinois, and he set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud. He will be remembered and revered as one of the titans in the history of state government.”

Northwestern Law School said in a tweet, "Gov. Thompson graduated from the Law School in 1959 and was a faculty member before serving four terms as governor. In 2017, generous alumni established the Hon. James R. Thompson Scholarship, a testimony to his career and dedication to law. #NLawProud"

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider praised Thompson’s tenure as governor, including his work to keep the Chicago White Sox in the city and for his kindness and compassion as a leader.

“Today the Illinois Republican Party mourns the loss of a great leader in Illinois’ storied history,” the statement read. “Gov. ‘Big Jim’ Thompson exemplified a state government that worked, treated others with legendary kindness and created lasting positive change for Illinois over his 14 years as governor. He helped send a corrupt governor to jail as a prosecutor, rebuilt the state’s infrastructure, saved the White Sox, and presided over a healthy and prosperous Illinois. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jayne and his family at this time.”

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Thompson "generously helped" him through his years as governor from 2009 to 2015.

“From the time he signed the Political Honesty Initiative – to stop legislative conflicts of interest, double dipping, and advance pay for politicians – when he was first running for governor in 1976, Gov. Jim Thompson stood for cleaning up corruption in Illinois politics and government," Quinn said in a statement.

“As US Attorney, he brought to justice scores of corrupt public officials," Quinn continued. "As governor of Illinois for a record 14 years, Jim Thompson always remained true to his conscience and convictions. For the past four decades, he has strengthened the annual conference of US Midwest states and the people and businesses of Japan, an international legacy of friendship that created and maintained thousands of jobs in Illinois."

Thompson's former law firm, Winston and Strawn, expressed their grief, saying he had an "unshakable belief in the importance of doing the right thing that helped establish a culture for the firm" that still guides the employees.

"The Governor was a legal lion – arguing more cases in the Illinois Supreme Court than any lawyer other than Abraham Lincoln. Whether it was his ongoing zeal to improve the city where he was born and raised, his fight to break the chokehold of corruption in Chicago politics in the 1970s, or his determination to find justice for victims of 9/11 as a Presidential appointee of the 9/11 Commission, the Governor always led with his principles," a statement read. "Illinois, Chicago, and Winston & Strawn have lost a true leader. We extend our sincere condolences to Governor Thompson's family."

Illinois Rep. Jim Durkin said Thompson has a passion for Illinois politics that he used in Springfield.

“Gov. Thompson was a friend, mentor and an exemplary statesman who loved Illinois," Durkin said in a statement. "He was a hands-on governor who loved the process of getting things done in Springfield, and his accomplishments still stand strong today. Our state was fortunate to have such a dedicated leader.”

Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan and, his wife, Shirley issued a statement on Thompson's passing Saturday after years of serving with him.

“The passing of Jim Thompson brings great sadness to our family. He was a cherished friend," a statement read. "Jim Thompson should be credited with the modernization of Illinois government as best illustrated by the structure that bears his name. His pioneering commitment to the arts strengthened the fabric of our state. He was a hard-nosed political figure and a compassionate leader. We were honored to serve with him. On behalf of our children, Lisa, Tiffany, Nicole, and Andrew, we offer our deepest sympathies to Jayne and Samantha. We offer them prayers of comfort and strength in these sad times. Illinois is a better place because of Jim Thompson’s work.”

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