Illinois Loses a Gentle Leader

Former 1970 Constitutional Convention Delegate, State Representative and State Senator Virginia Macdonald died this week.

I learned that when I read the Chicago Tribune’s obituary.

During the 1970’s, Ginny sat in front of me all but my first term. She was part of the voluntary “no smoking” section on the House floor in front of the press box.

She was a kind, gentle soul.

I asked my friend former State Rep. Penny Pullen if she had any thoughts she wanted to share. She wrote the following:

In official General Assembly-ese, Virginia Macdonald was addressed from the chair of the House or Senate as “The Lady from Cook, Mrs. Macdonald.” In her case, the words were true.

She was a gentle lady and kind. And though she was a firm partisan and the epitome of the “moderate” Republican, Virginia Macdonald befriended people she thought worthy regardless of differences in views. (This is how it should be but often is not!)

She was one of the two legislators I often affectionately called “Mom,” the other being the late Dolly Hallstrom of Evanston.

My friendship with Ginny began when my boss lost his battle to leukemia while in his early 40s. I had been his administrative assistant, working with him not just in the district office but also in Springfield, which occasioned my acquaintance with many legislators.

I’d been working in the Illinois House for seven years and had expected this behind-the-scenes job to be my career, but suddenly it was gone, and I was left to wonder what the future might have in store for me.

I received a call from one of the legislators who had taken over sponsorship of my boss’s dozen bills, requesting me to come back to Springfield to testify for the legislation and help the various sponsors gain insight into what my boss had intended with his proposals.

I was willing to do that but wasn’t sure whether I’d be comfortable kicking around Springfield with too little to do. Ginny was kind enough to put me to work; she had not yet been assigned a secretary, and her mail was piling up so badly, she feared she could never catch up. I played secretary for Ginny, and she drove me back and forth each week to session.

It was during this session, thanks to her kindness in recognizing my need to be useful, that I found the legislature was still the place where I could work effectively, and Ginny became one of four legislators who hired me part-time while I decided what to do, a season that soon led to my 16-year career as a Member of the Illinois House.

Her kindness and friendship, along with her strong sense of justice, came to the fore again many years later, when State Rep. Bernie Pedersen was being challenged by the feminist movement in the Republican primary.

Though Bernie was much more conservative than Ginny, and his opponent was more in line with Ginny philosophically, she was furious and determined that no harm should come to this good and gentle man while she could have any say about it!

She personally wrote and endorsed a large post card to every woman voter in Bernie’s district who might take a Republican ballot, urging the voters to ignore the smears being leveled at Bernie and instead to vote for his re-election.

That card – signed by a lady who was well respected by every Republican in the area – played a major role in Bernie’s prevailing in a primary where several of his conservative colleagues (including me!) went down.

I have not had the pleasure of seeing Ginny during the last several years, and I am saddened now to read of her passing. For her kindness and her friendship and for her iron will of justice, I will never forget Virginia Macdonald. She was a credit to her district, to her party and to the people of Illinois.

To both of us – and to Bernie, too, I’m sure – our philosophical differences made no difference.

She was a gem.

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Rep. Virginia Macdonald can be seen in the third row from the back sitting two seats to the right of House Speaker W. Robert Blair, who is standing in giving a speech. The photo was taken in either 1974 or 1975 in Macdonald’s and my first term. Click to enlarge either image.

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