She was warm, refined and engaging. But Eileen Quinn definitely believed in speaking up.
So it didn’t matter that her eldest son was the governor of Illinois. If Mrs. Quinn thought he was being noncommittal or vague, she’d tell him, “Tell it like it is — don’t be a people-pleaser.”
Mrs. Quinn died Saturday morning at her River Forest condo. She was 98.
“The word ‘charisma’ means ‘God’s grace,’ ’’ Pat Quinn said. “My mom had God’s grace and returned it to all she met.”
Her sense of social justice was influenced by activist Monsignor John Egan, who marched in Selma with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as by Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement.
In the 1950s, when racial or ethnic slurs might be overlooked, Pat Quinn remembers hearing his mothertell offenders she objected. The words “shut up” might even have been used, he said.
Her desk became a sanctuary for students at Hinsdale Middle School, where she was a longtime administrative assistant. If she saw bullying, she’d intervene. Kids facing challenges at home, like divorce or alcholism, could count on Mrs. Quinn for a smile and kind words.
She was fiercely proud of her sons. One political cartoonist who drew unflattering pictures of the former governor is “lucky he never met my mother,” said her youngest, John, a teacher at Fenwick High School.
She grew up in Englewood, the daughter of Teresa and Daniel Prindiville, an Irish immigrant from County Kerry whose carpentry kept food on the table during the Depression. Eileen Prindiville learned shorthand and typing at Wilson Junior College, now Kennedy-King College.
She worked at a mortgage company and typed letters to her boyfriend, Patrick “P.J.” Quinn. He was assigned to the night torpedo squadron on the Bon Homme Richard aircraft carrier, where he had to be alert for kamikazes. On a three-day shore leave in 1943, they got married. They raised their family in Hinsdale and were a united front for 65 years, until his death in 2008.
“They were tremendous partners,” said John Quinn.
P.J. Quinn used the GI bill to attend DePaul University and became the personnel director for Catholic Cemeteries. In 1965, when her youngest son was in second grade, Mrs. Quinn started working at Hinsdale Middle School.
After sending their children to Fenwick, the couple helped them with college. The three Quinn boys earned undergraduate and advanced degrees from Amherst College and Georgetown, Northwestern and Stanford universities.
She prayed the rosary and wore a charm bracelet with three gold medallions, each engraved with the image of a little boy. One of her favorite encouragements was, “Put a bone in you” — a backbone — and stand up for what you believe, John Quinn said.
She had an iPad and a laptop and read newspapers and kept up with TV news.
“I’m sure she was the best informed 98-year-old in the state of Illinois,” said her middle son, Thomas Quinn, a lawyer with the firm Schiff Hardin.
“Even at age 98, she never forgot a name or a face,” Thomas Quinn said. “One of her real joys was to go to the Irish Fellowship Dinner for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Mrs. Quinn is also survived by eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park, with a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Luke Church in River Forest.
“I had a wonderful, wonderful life with my three sons, and Pat was the leader,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times last year. “He was the rock.”