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Topinka remembered as honest, tough at memorial

Joseph Baar Topinka speaks Wednesday morning during the memorial service for his mom, former Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, at Local 150 Headquarters in Countryside. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

Leaders of all political stripes packed into a Countryside union hall Wednesday to bid farewell to Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a blunt-spoken, relentlessly upbeat woman who as a self-described “political mutt” would surely have appreciated the bi-partisan outpouring.

“She’s done so much for the people of Illinois,” said Gov. Pat Quinn. “There’s a hole in the hearts of the people of Illinois.”

Quinn sat on a stage that also included Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.

Rauner told the story of receiving a box of cookies from Topinka that arrived just days after she died.

“That’s what she was about — touching people’s hearts in small ways,” Rauner said.

If it seems odd for the life of a Republican to be remembered in a union hall, Topinka spokesman Brad Hahn said it speaks to Topinka’s longstanding good relationship with the union. The 900-seat hall is also close to Topinka’s Riverside home, Hahn said.

Portraits of Topinka lined an entrance, along with photos of past campaigns, her family and dogs.

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 crane adorned in purple-and-black bunting.

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 a political career that spanned three-plus decades, 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.Topinka was divorced. Survivors include a son, Joseph, and a granddaughter, Alexandra Faith Baar Topinka.

A spokesman says Topinka didn’t want a funeral or wake, but had said friends and family could hold a memorial service.