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Nancy Lipman, mentor to other LGBTQ Chicago cops, devoted animal rescuer, dead at 61

She was one of the first “white shirts” to ride on the Chicago Police Department float in the Pride Parade — “a huge thing,” says the head of the Lesbian Gay Police Association-Gay Officers Action League of Chicago.

Nancy Lipman spent 30 years with the Chicago Police Department, rising to commander of the public transportation unit.
Nancy Lipman spent 30 years with the Chicago Police Department, rising to commander of the public transportation unit.
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It was like a lot of other drug busts. The police served a warrant, found narcotics, made arrests. But, in a back room, they discovered something else.

“We found a little dog that was all burned up, burned on its back and sides,” former Lt. Russell Schaefer said. “This dog had been set on fire.”

It struggled to limp toward them.

“It was, like, ‘Thank God, you’re here,’” Schaefer said.

Another officer called over Nancy Lipman, a cop who’d rescued dozens of animals over the years. She cradled the puppy, then took it to a veterinarian.

After nursing her back to health, Ms. Lipman found a home for the dog, who was renamed Heidi.

“She wound up with our neighbors,” said her son Christopher. “Heidi had a great life.”

Ms. Lipman, who rose from patrol officer to commander of the public transportation unit during a 30-year career with the Chicago Police Department, died of ovarian cancer April 11, according to her wife Johanne M. Kenol. She was 61 and lived in Beverly.

She was one of the first “white shirts” to ride on the department float in the city’s annual Pride Parade.

“It was a huge thing,” said Detective Jamie Richardson, president of the Lesbian Gay Police Association-Gay Officers Action League of Chicago. “Not too many bosses would be on the float.”

Nancy Lipman — holding Ben, one of her rescue dogs — with her wife Johanne M. Kenol.
Nancy Lipman — holding Ben, one of her rescue dogs — with her wife Johanne M. Kenol.
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Young Nancy grew up on the South Side at 105th and Troy and went to Morgan Park High School.

“When she turned 16, she went to my grandfather and said she wanted to buy the car across the street,” her son said. “He said, ‘You don’t have the money.’”

She pulled out a shoebox filled with hundreds of dollars she’d saved from waitressing. Soon, she was driving her neighbor’s blue Plymouth.

At 18, Ms. Lipman became a mom during her first marriage, which ended in divorce.

“She still finished college, became a police commander,” her son said.

After graduating from St. Xavier University, she joined the department in the mid-1980s.

She told Windy City Times that, as a rookie, she “heard a lieutenant at roll call say we should go back to Germany and bring back the ovens to use on” — and then he used a slur for gays.

“I wondered whether the officers sitting around me experienced even a fraction of the horror that statement evoked in me,” she said.

In the eulogy he gave at her service April 24, her son said, “Think about what it was like in the 1980s to be a young, 20–something, single, gay police-officer mom.”

For years, Ms. Lipman worked in the old 21st District at 29th and Prairie, where she approached Schaefer about putting women on his tactical team.

Weeks later, he saw her at lunch.

“I walked up to her, and I said, ‘Do you mind if I join you?’” Schaefer said. “And she said, ‘Yes, I do. You can eat with me when you get a woman on your tac team.’ So I went and sat somewhere else.”

When there was an opening, he invited her to join the unit. He said other officers soon told him what he already knew: “She was a top-grade police officer.”

Over the years, she rescued many abused or abandoned animals. Once, she helped corral a dog and some puppies in a junkyard. But the mama dog wouldn’t get in the squad car and kept returning to the junkyard.

“Sure enough, there was one [more] puppy,” her son said.

She placed them in homes but kept one pup, naming her Gertie.

Nancy Lipman with her “little guy,” a dog named Remi she found in a park.
Nancy Lipman with her “little guy,” a dog named Remi she found in a park.
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Ms. Lipman found a dog she named Remi in a park.

“The dog just came running out of nowhere, and she opened her police car, and he jumped right in,” her wife said. “I was able to bring him to her room in hospice.”

In 2014, while commander of the public transportation unit, someone called her in the middle of the night saying an L train “went up the escalator” at O’Hare Airport, according to Kevin O’Donnell, a police chaplain. She hung up, thinking it was a prank. The caller tried again, explaining a Blue Line train had climbed the escalator after derailing. She headed to O’Hare.

Johanne M. Kenol and her wife Nancy Lipman (center) with Lipman’s son Christopher and wife Diana and their three children.
Johanne M. Kenol and her wife Nancy Lipman (center) with Lipman’s son Christopher and wife Diana and their three children.
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Ms. Lipman loved spending time in South Haven, Michigan, with her wife, whom she met at a speed-dating event. They enjoyed taking her three grandchildren sledding and on bike rides. Her license plates said: “Gramma 43” — as in for three.

Ms. Lipman is also survived by her brother Daniel.

Nancy Lipman relaxing with her dogs Ben and Max on her lap and Gertie and Morgan — who was found on Morgan Avenue — at her feet. Her cat Millie perches above her.
Nancy Lipman relaxing with her dogs Ben and Max on her lap and Gertie and Morgan — who was found on Morgan Avenue — at her feet. Her cat Millie perches above her.
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