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Corinne Wood, 66, state’s first female lieutenant governor, dies of breast cancer

“The world has lost a great lady,” said Renee Kosel, a friend and former House colleague.

Corinne Wood
Corinne Wood
Sun-Times file

Corinne Wood, Illinois’ first female lieutenant governor, died Tuesday after a long battle with breast cancer.

Wood, 66, served as lieutenant governor from 1999 to 2003 in the administration of Gov. George Ryan.

“Surrounded by her immediate family, she died peacefully from complications related to her 15-year struggle with metastatic breast cancer,” her family said in a statement.

Current Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said Wednesday in a tweet, “She paved the way for women like me to serve in this role.”

The Illinois Republican Party, in a tweet offering condolences to Wood’s family, called her a “trailblazer” and “a brave woman who battled cancer for many years and used her time in public office to champion women’s health.”

Wood was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1996, the same year Barack Obama was elected to the state Senate.

“Barack, Corinne and I were sort of the dynamic trio of affordable health care and a lot of what we worked on ended up being in the Affordable Care Act that later passed when Barack Obama became president,” recalled Beth Coulson, a former House colleague who was sworn in the same year.

Wood fought for the widespread availability of breast cancer screening and medical coverage for young adults.

“We’d work in our offices until 10 at night in this big Capitol, and we’d be the only two left in the building and she’d call me and we’d go for ice cream cones at McDonald’s because it was the only place that was open,” Coulson said. “That was our tradition.”

Wood was in the Legislature for less than a year when she was selected by George Ryan in 1997 to run as his lieutenant governor. She was also first diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year and had been undergoing intensive chemotherapy when she interviewed for the job.

“She was a good lieutenant governor and did her job well and it was some tough times for her,” former Gov. George Ryan said Wednesday, referring to her fight with cancer.

In the Statehouse, she was most proud of helping to pass a bill that increased the amount of training and parental involvement required for young people to get a driver’s license.

As lieutenant governor, she crafted and shepherded the passage of Scott’s Law, which increased penalties for motorists who endanger the lives of emergency workers.

Wood ran for governor but lost in the Republican primary to former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. Ryan went on to lose to Rod Blagojevich in the General Election in 2002.

Renee Kosel was a freshman in the House with Wood and Coulson.

“The three of us didn’t hang out in the bars,” Kosel said. “And some of the old-time legislators, they said ‘You can’t possibly get anything done if you don’t hang out in the bars’ and we said ‘Oh yes we can.’ And we proved we could.”

“She took on her work with such absolute zest and made sure all the bases were covered and was quite incredible with keeping everything balanced,” Kosel said. “She had these three young kids, and I just absolutely admired how she kept all the balls in the air and she did it well. The world has lost a great lady. She had such a valiant fight with that cancer.”

Wood, who lived in Lake Forest during her time in public office, was a liberal in many ways but also was fiscally conservative, said her former press secretary Tressa Pankovits.

“Corinne favored gay marriage and was pro-choice,” Pankovits said.

Wood made headlines when she called for a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch because of the company’s sexual exploitation of young women in its advertisements.

“She had young daughters at the time and was just shocked by these ads,” Pankovits said.

Wood, who worked as an attorney before entering politics, had great support from her husband, Paul Wood, a founding partner of the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, and their three children Ashley, Brandon and Courtney, friends said.

“Paul was a great political husband,” Kosel said. “And there weren’t a lot of political husbands at that time.”

The two met in a freshman algebra class at the University of Illinois in 1972.

Paul Wood told the Sun-Times in 1998 that he considered her “the best-looking girl in the class” and he was impressed with her integrity, work ethic and determination.

Their first date was at a fraternity Halloween party. He went as a ghost. She dressed up as Morticia from “The Addams Family.”

Funeral and memorial service arrangements will be announced at a later date.