Billie Jean Paige, one of the first Black women to lobby in Springfield, dead at 84

‘She definitely was a trailblazer and glass-ceiling breaker,’ U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly said.

SHARE Billie Jean Paige, one of the first Black women to lobby in Springfield, dead at 84
Billie Paige was one of the first Black women to lobby in Springfield.

Billie Paige was one of the first Black women to lobby in Springfield.

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Services are planned Saturday for Billie Paige, one of the first Black women to work as a lobbyist in Springfield.

Mrs. Paige died April 10 at the Franciscan Health hospital in Dyer, Indiana. The Crete resident was 84 and had been experiencing health problems, according to her son Gary Paige.

“She definitely was a trailblazer and glass-ceiling breaker,” said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.

Billie Paige and husband George Paige with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Billie Paige and husband George Paige with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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Adept at forging alliances, Mrs. Paige understood that, in politics, it’s best to avoid having permanent enemies.

“She didn’t take guff from anybody,” said former state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, a former Illinois House of Representatives majority leader. Also, “She wasn’t the kind of person who would call somebody to task in a way that she wouldn’t be able to call on them again.”

Clients of her Shea, Paige & Rogal lobbying firm included Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Metra and the Tobacco Institute.

According to her son, she usually drove to and from Springfield in a Buick or Cadillac because the firm also represented General Motors.

During the 1960s, she was a consultant for the Head Start early childhood education program. In the 1970s, she worked in the administration of Gov. Dan Walker as state commissioner of unemployment compensation.

She also served as deputy director of the state Department of Registration and Education and, in 1980, became director of government affairs for the Illinois Hospital Association, according to her family.

Soon after, she joined a lobbying firm that eventually became Shea, Paige & Rogal. The firm, which included attorney Ira Rogal and Gerald W. Shea, a former Democratic leader in the Illinois House, grew to be a power player in Illinois politics.

In 1984, she became president and chief executive officer of Continental Testing Services, which administered government exams.

Mrs. Paige helped start the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership Training Academy, according to another founder, Loretta Durbin, a retired lobbyist married to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The organization offers training on leadership and running successful political campaigns to women who are Democrats and abortion rights advocates. Durbin said Mrs. Paige helped select trainees.

Mrs. Paige worked in fundraising and as a treasurer and campaign manager for former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., during her runs for the Senate and other offices.

“She was a mentor to so many people,” said Avis LaVelle, who said that, when she was a new lobbyist in Springfield for the University of Chicago hospitals, Mrs. Paige “just took me in, helped me understand the rhythm of the crazy place I was trying to figure out.”

Billie and George Paige on their wedding day.

Billie and George Paige on their wedding day.

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“She was extremely bright and forward-thinking, and she was very, very kind,” said George Paige, her husband of 65 years. “Her intelligence just blew everybody away.”

Mrs. Paige grew up in North Lawndale. Her mother, Ora Bond, worked in nursing. Her father, Enos Bond, was a postal manager and invested in real estate.

Ora Bond sent young Billie to high school at a boarding school in Wisconsin because “her mother wanted her to have the best education,” Gary Paige said.

She graduated at about 15 and got her bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University, her husband said.

Billie Paige was assistant choir director at St. Katharine Drexel Parish of Chicago.

Billie Paige was assistant choir director at St. Katharine Drexel Parish of Chicago.

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Her mother enrolled her in singing lessons, and she went on to be a vocalist, pianist and assistant choir director at St. Katharine Drexel Parish of Chicago.

A devout Roman Catholic, “she would take her hands off the wheel to cross herself every time we passed a Catholic church,” her husband said.

Billie Paige and her family.

Billie Paige and her family.

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Gary Paige said his mother cooked delicious greens, chili and oxtail stew. She enjoyed watching the TV show “NCIS.” Often, she wore St. John Knits. And she liked collecting objects with owl likenesses.

Over the course of her life, she had six West Highland white terriers, including her current Westie, named Peppermint Patty.

Mrs. Paige’s son Stephen died in 2007. She is also survived by one grandchild.

Visitation is planned from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at Brookins Funeral Home, 9315 S. Ashland Ave., and also Saturday from 9 a.m. until the 11 a.m. funeral Mass at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, 9015 S. Harper Ave.

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