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Judy Baar Topinka worked in a no-BS zone

Judy Baar Topinka died with her boots on.

And probably a carry-out coffee cup clutched firmly in her hand.


Illinois’ comptroller, former treasurer, former state senator, former state rep and former Republican nominee for governor went out the way she would have wanted. Decisively. Still working at 70. Victorious after yet another campaign. And ready to begin a new chapter in the tumultuous political life of the state.

More than a decade ago, I got a call from Judy. She wanted me to speak at her Lincoln Day dinner in Riverside. It never would have occurred to me to say no. And I still think of that evening every time some pundit invokes the term “retail politics.”

For Judy, every day was retail. And that night, she walked me to every single table in that big banquet hall and introduced me to every person there — by name. She knew their kids, their cousins, the health of their father-in-law and the unemployment struggles of their sons and daughters.

Maybe that’s why I cringe at the term “career politician” when it’s used to disparage. A career doing something you love is a gift. And there are honestly some gifted public servants in government who love their work and do it well.

Perfectly? No.

Judy was hardly that. In a lot of ways she was old school. But in most ways, she was ahead of her time.