Marion Volini, a former 48th Ward alderman who served in the Chicago City Council during a period of tumult under the city’s only woman mayor and its first African-American mayor, died Monday at 83 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
She had been diagnosed in March with acute myeloid leukemia, according to her daughter Monica Volini.
“I think she charted a course and inspired a lot of women to run for public office,” said Ald. Harry Osterman, who represents that ward on the Chicago City Council.
In 2015, Mrs. Volini spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times about the lack of women on the City Council. At the time, women were about to be sworn in to a dozen of the council’s 50 seats.
“We’re more than 50 percent of the population,” Mrs. Volini said. “We should have an equal voice in the council.”
Mrs. Volini recalled the pivotal peace-making role played by women aldermen during the power struggle known as Council Wars that saw 29 aldermen, most of them white and led by Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th), thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move.
“They called us ‘Beirut on the Lake,’ ” she said. “I didn’t see how it would ever be resolved. . . But I proposed having negotiating teams meet to work out committee chairmanships to make that equitable. That made it possible to pass a budget. I felt that was something a woman could do without alienating other members of the City Council.”
She served from 1978 until 1987. In addition to working with Washington, the city’s first African-American mayor, she served under Jane Byrne, the only woman to be elected mayor in Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Mrs. Volini was “a trailblazer, an outspoken advocate for her constituents and a public servant who was guided by the North Stars of compassion and conscience.”
Osterman choked back tears as he talked about similarities between her and his mother, former Ald. Kathy Osterman (48th), who followed Mrs. Volini as alderman. The women were close friends.
“They both had this Irish spirit, where they enjoyed their families, enjoyed their communities, enjoyed the laughs, enjoyed the toughness of politics in Chicago,” he said. “But, at the core, they really wanted a better neighborhood and a better Chicago for their kids and grandkids. Where we are as a neighborhood today is because of what she did back in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Mrs. Volini grew up on the South Side. Her mother, also named Marion, was from Chicago. Her father Edward Kennedy, an Irish immigrant from Foxford, County Mayo, made his living selling Hoover vacuums and washing machines. She went to Maria High School. For four years, she commuted on the CTA from 63rd and Washtenaw to attend Mundelein College.
She met future husband Camillo Volini, a Loyola University student, on a double date — with other people. They took notice of each other because both abstained from eating after midnight. At the time, that was the Roman Catholic Church’s preference for people who planned to take Communion the next morning.
They raised five children in the Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood.
Before entering politics, Mrs. Volini was a teacher and speech therapist in the Chicago Public Schools.
In an interview with the Edgewater Historical Society, Mrs. Volini said her community involvement was inspired in part by the growing population of people with mental illness who’d been deinstitutionalized — and landlords who exploited them.
She became president of the Edgewater Community Council, then ran for alderman without much of an organization behind her. Once in office, she worked on issues including lake erosion and gay rights.
Constituents responded to her sincerity and empathy, said her son Michael, who was Democratic committeeman in the ward. “She didn’t have an angle,” he said. “She wasn’t looking for stepping stones.”
In her later years, Mrs. Volini opened a real estate company, the Lakefront Group.
She adored spending time with her 10 grandchildren, tailoring her outings with them to the things they liked to do. At Christmas, she enjoyed going to the Music Box Theatre with her family to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas.”
Her husband died in 2001. In addition to her daughter Monica, son Michael and her grandchildren, Mrs. Volini is survived by daughters Marion “Mimi” Volini Moore and Marcella Volini Landis and son David. The family says the Rev. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, is expected to say her funeral Massy. Funeral arrangements — being made through Drake & Son Funeral Home — are pending.