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Topinka remembered as honest, tough at memorial

Judy Baar Topinka failed in her bid to become governor of the state she loved. And when she died last week, she was Illinois’ comptroller — a position she’d said even could be combined with the treasurer’s office.

Topinka was remembered Wednesday less for how far she climbed during her 30-plus years in state politics, than for an idiosyncratic, refreshing approach that sometimes put her at odds with her own Republican Party.

“She was always known for telling the truth, a truth teller, and standing up for important issues no matter what her party might say. No matter the conventional wisdom of the day, Judy spoke from her heart,” Gov. Pat Quinn said during Topinka’s memorial at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 headquarters in the western suburb of Countryside.

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, former Gov. Jim Thompson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were among the political heavyweights who filled the union hall to capacity Wednesday. Topinka’s beloved Scottie dogs, Jack and Nora, also made an appearance.

“Judy led the ultimate life,” Rauner said. “She was a true public servant . . . She cared deeply for the families of Illinois. She worked her tail off to try to make a better life for all of us here.”

Topinka died last week. She’d gone to a hospital in Berwyn, after suffering some discomfort. While at the hospital undergoing tests, she suffered a stroke. She was 70.

In her political career, Topinka served as state treasurer for 12 years. Last month, she was re-elected to her second term as comptroller. She also spent four years in the Illinois House and 10 in the Senate. And in 2006, she ran for governor, losing to Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Friends and family recalled Topinka’s many quirky habits — her love of coffee, red hair color, the polka and her inability to pass an estate sale without buying something.

“The rule there is buy something because she was never happy if you walked out of there empty-handed,” said Topinka’s longtime friend, Nancy J. Kimme. “And you’re never allowed to pay full price. Even if something only cost a dollar, she will lose all respect for you, if you walk out of there paying more than 50 cents.”

RELATED: Judy Baar Topinka’s dogs find a home

Former Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka was honored Monday morning during a memorial service at Local 150 Headquarters in Countryside. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media Outside the memorial service, Topinka campaign signs lined Joliet Road as far as the eye could see.

A huge American flag and a smaller Illinois state flag fluttered in the chilly breeze from the arm of the crane adorned in purple-and-black bunting.

“We all feel a tremendous sense of loss because she filled every square inch of a room, every square inch of our hearts,” Kimme said. “She was hilarious. She was loyal to a fault sometimes, frustrating as all get out and simply the best person I’ve ever known. Rest well my friend. We love you.”

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