Once in awhile one meets someone who is so selfless, so desirous of public service, that he or she would be a standout under any circumstances.
Sadly, most the time, people do not even know folks like this are working on their behalf, because they just do their job 110 percent all the time and in the background. They do not seek publicity, and they don’t turn people in need away.
Such was Lt. Col. Jim O’Rourke. Jim lived in LaGrange and worked full time for the treasurer’s office while only being hired in a part-time capacity. He just never really understood what “part time” meant when it came to veterans and their causes.
We hired Jim on the recommendation of a friend in the American Legion, and we hired him because we had so many veterans coming to our office for assistance. I was becoming snowed under just in those issues.
Jim took to the job like a champ, somehow making things happen while teaching JROTC at Senn High School, helping the USO, being a district commander for the American Legion (which covers our township) and helping deployed soldiers keep their jobs when employers thought they were too much trouble to deal with via the ESGR, the Employee Support for the Guard and the Reserve.
Besides that, he was the breadwinner for his family, attended Mass daily and did a daily jog to stay healthy.
There were no big headlines for him when he suddenly passed away a day before Christmas of a massive heart attack, stunning his family and friends. His death was the type of thing that a variety of networks immediately started phone treeing because, it would seem, Jim had friends and people he had helped everywhere.
As a politician, I go to many wakes and funerals. But, it was especially gratifying to see so many people turn out to pay tribute to this humble man who worked so hard on a day-to-day basis to help veterans … or anyone else, for that matter.
He was given a full military funeral. If there were a veterans group or auxiliary in Illinois, there were representatives there. The room at the funeral home, where a memorial service was held, was unique in that there was every age group represented-from kids to seniors, military and civilians, and, of course, our office family, who genuinely loved the man as a brother.
The emotion was so genuine, the loss so heartfelt. Everyone had a special story and memory to share of a project they had participated in with Jim. His son’s eulogy left many teary-eyed as we all pondered how this could have happened.
Jim was only 49 years old, very fit and had just passed his physical. His bearing was that of a soldier who had served, who understood what war was and what those who came back were going through.
It again brought out the fragility and shortness of life, and why it is so important that we live every day to its fullest and try to cram as many good deeds into it as possible.
General John Scully, a Riverside trustee, was one of the first to call me that Jim was gone. He was there with his wife, Judy, for the services.
“He was such a good man,” Scully said, which was echoed by everyone in the room.
If Jim had any special honors, we never heard about them. If he had ever faced the demons of a soldier, we never heard about them. He was always worried about someone else.
He was not a Congressional Medal of Honor winner or anything like that, but held an even greater title. He was a good man.