Former Illinois Supreme Court Justice John J. Stamos dies at 92
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A son of Greek immigrants who rose to be a respected Illinois Supreme Court justice, John J. Stamos developed a reputation for integrity to match his legal wisdom.
“He was a true public servant — not a media hound,” said Bernard Judge, retired editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Mr. Stamos died Saturday of pulmonary fibrosis at his Northbrook home after a dinner with his family to celebrate his 93rd birthday, which fell Monday, the day his family planned his funeral.
In 1966, Mr. Stamos — then Cook County’s first assistant state’s attorney — became top prosecutor after his boss, Dan Ward, moved to the Illinois Supreme Court. It was on his watch that the county tried Richard Speck, who butchered eight student nurses in a night of mayhem on Chicago’s South Side.
He could have personally handled the trial to raise his profile, but chose to assign it to prosecutors he trusted, including William J. Martin. To do otherwise, he thought, would have suggested he didn’t have confidence in his team, said his daughter, attorney Colleen Stamos.
“At no time did John ever even consider trying the case,” said Martin. “He had an office to run. He had a lot of other cases, and he wasn’t interested in promoting himself over the tragedy of that case. And he was the most wonderful boss I ever had or could have.”
His watchwords, according to Martin and his children, were “Do what’s right.”
Mr. Stamos recalled his days as chief prosecutor in a 1989 interview with the Sun-Times, likening the experience to managing a munitions factory. “You move grenades all day long, without knowing which one is going to explode in your face,” he said.
He was expected to run for the state’s attorney’s job when it opened in 1968, but Mayor Richard J. Daley didn’t slate him. Political observers attributed the mayor’s snub to his wariness of Mr. Stamos’ independence, as well as Daley’s fear of losing the post to a GOP candidate who had an Irish name, Ald. Robert J. O’Rourke (48th).
Instead, in a decision that proved disastrous, Daley picked Edward V. Hanrahan to run for state’s attorney. In 1969, Hanrahan’s police raided a West Side apartment, killing Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Hanrahan told the media the Panthers fired on his officers, showing reporters bullet holes in their apartment door. The Sun-Times found the “holes” were actually nail heads, and the real bullet holes were above Hampton’s bed.
After Daley’s refusal to slate him, Mr. Stamos was elected to the First District Appellate Court. In 1988 he was appointed an Illinois Supreme Court justice, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of Seymour Simon.
Young John Stamos grew up in the South Chicago neighborhood, the son of James and Katherine, immigrants from Greece’s Kiato area on the Corinthian Bay.
His father and four uncles settled near 92nd and Commercial, opening bakeries, restaurants and hotels.
Mr. Stamos’s boyhood jobs included lugging home big blocks of ice from an ice house.
When the Depression hit, he remembered hungry men showing up at the back door of the Stamos home seeking food in exchange for work. His mother “would always try to find something to do and give them a meal,” said Colleen Stamos.
He went to Bowen High School and DePaul University and entered the Army in World War II.
Because he knew how to type, Mr. Stamos was assigned to clerical duties at a military psychiatric unit in Belgium. But after the Battle of the Bulge, the hospital took in the physically wounded. Mr. Stamos became a litter-bearer, ferrying injured servicemen to treatment.
“The only two times I saw him choke up,” said his son James, also an attorney, “was when my mom died, and [he talked about] carrying the litters.”
In 1948 Mr. Stamos earned a law degree from DePaul. He served in the city corporation counsel’s office before joining the office of state’s attorney.
He had a puckish sense of humor. In the late 1980s, when the TV show “Full House” became popular, he received a letter from a young female fan of actor John Stamos. She asked for an autographed picture.
“He sent her a photo of him in his [judicial] robes signed ‘Personal Regards from John Stamos,’” recalled his daughter Theo Stamos, who serves as the equivalent of state’s attorney for Arlington County, Virginia.
Mr. Stamos loved gardening and enjoyed his backyard fish pond. He brought the goldfish in each winter, tending them in a kiddie pool in his basement.
A gifted artist, he’d once been offered a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute. He relaxed by painting nature scenes, giving away prints that wound up getting displayed at banks and government offices.
Mr. Stamos and his first wife, Helen Voutiritsas, raised their family in South Chicago and Northbrook. She died of complications from breast cancer in 1981. Five years later he married Mary “Daisy” Stamos.
In addition to his wife and three children, Mr. Stamos is survived by his daughter Jana DiMartino, who works in the hospitality business; sisters Christine Gehopoulos and Zoe Rummell; stepchildren Cynthia McGarrigle, Andrea Fernandes and Dean Sotter, and four grandsons. Visitation is 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Smith-Corcoran Funeral Home, 6150 N. Cicero. A funeral service is planned at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Saints Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church, 1401 Wagner Road, Glenview. Burial is at Memorial Park Cemetery, Skokie.