A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Remembering Judy Baar Topinka

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2014-12-10

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, today I pay tribute to one of Illinois' great pioneers, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Judy passed away suddenly last night at the age of 70. She was the only woman in our State to hold two State constitutional offices, and her leadership built bridges for countless women.

    Born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, Judy and her family lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father fought in World War II. She went to Northwestern University and graduated with a degree in journalism from the university's Medill School in 1966.

    Judy became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain and rose through the ranks to editor. But in 1980, she decided to run for the Illinois House. She said she ran because the corrupt officials were ignoring the community.

    Her trademark humor and her work ethic served her well and she went to serve as State senator from 1985 until 1995. In 1994, she became the first woman in Illinois history to hold the post of State treasurer and then went on to set another first as the only State treasurer to be reelected to three consecutive terms. Judy was a consummate public servant. A few weeks ago, she was re-elected as State comptroller and was about to start her second term.

    Judy never shied away from taking tough stands or making the hard decisions. When it was not popular among many in her party, she was an advocate of women's rights and gay rights. When both parties needed to be held accountable, she was fearless. She was always a straight talker.

    She was one of a kind. Judy could play the accordion, and she spoke four languages--English, Czech, Spanish, and Polish. She loved dance polkas and really was Illinois' Polka Queen. Anyone who knew her also knew about her beloved dogs and their preference for McDonald's cheeseburgers. In an era where far too many are stuck on talking points, Judy said what she thought and did it with style.

    In a political world of cocker spaniels she could be a bulldog taking a bite out of both Democrats and right-wing Republicans without missing a beat. She was a blue-collar, immigrants' kid who lit up the room with her quick wit and boundless energy.

    Illinois lost someone special. My prayers and thoughts go out to her son Joseph, her new granddaughter Alexandra Faith, and the rest of her family.


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