It’s unanimous, of course. Everybody loved Judy Baar Topinka and a lot of us have a great Judy Baar story. We loved her, discouragingly, because she was the very antithesis of every quality we see in every other elected official in state and federal government.
Reporters loved her because she was a reporter. And she got her start in journalism at the Forest Park Review, our sister paper the next town up the river. We got to know her after she bought the Riverside Landmark, her hometown paper and her post-politics retirement project. Hard to run a newspaper part-time and harder still to make a nickel when you’re mainly in Springfield.
Judy Baar, the thrift-shopping Bohemian could not abide losing money. Fine thing in a state comptroller. So when the Landmark kept losing small amounts, she gave us a call and asked if we’d buy the paper. The simplest negotiation ever. She wanted her paper in independent hands. We wanted her to write a monthly column that wasn’t the usual politician spew. We were all happy.
After she died last week, we learned that Judy wanted no funeral service, no visitation. Simple, thrifty, even in death.
But that outpouring of affection for Judy had to have some outlet. Her family knew that. Her colleagues in politics knew it.
And, so, this morning hundreds will gather in a union hall in Countryside — a Republican memorial service in a union hall; what Republican politician does that nowadays? — to say farewell to Judy.
Just how far did Judy reach across partisan political lines? The people paying public tribute to her at her memorial service include Gov. Pat Quinn, the state’s leading Democrat, and Bruce Rauner, his Republican successor.
What was the key to her success? It was her ability to connect with just about anyone. She knew how to work a crowd, for sure, but she was also sincere. She really did enjoy sharing pictures of her own grandchild and enjoyed seeing others’ just as much.
Constituents, journalists and elected officials alike were surprised and delighted when they, out of nowhere, would receive an envelope in the mail containing a newspaper article in which they appeared as the subject. Sometimes the news articles would simply be about a subject she believed would be of interest to the recipient.
The clippings were invariably personalized with a brief, hand-written note — a compliment, an observation. Always that personal touch.
Quinn said he was “heartbroken” to hear of Judy’s death last week. We can well believe that. Many hearts were broken by that news last week.