CHICAGO (CBS) — The people who knew the late Judy Baar Topinka best gathered Wednesday to share stories and celebrate her life, a week after the longtime Illinois politician died of complications from a stroke.
Topinka, 70, served in state government for more than three decades, becoming one of the most successful Republican politicians in the state. Irrepressible, bluntly honest, and passionate, Topinka was admired and beloved on both sides of the political aisle.
Appellate Court Judge Joseph Birkett, who was Topinka’s running mate in the 2006 race for governor, conducted a memorial service Wednesday morning at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 hall in Countryside.
It was standing room only inside the hall, as more than 1,000 people came out to pay their respects to a woman who, in many ways, transcended partisan politics.
The choice of a union hall for Topinka’s memorial service showed her bipartisan reach, as a Republican who was adamantly pro-labor, pro-choice, and pro-gay rights.
Her appeal, though, stretched far beyond political issues. Birkett spoke of Topinka’s famous love for playing the accordion and dancing the polka.
“As you all know, Judy also loved music and she loved art. She could play four instruments, and spoke four languages fluently. She would have made a great ambassador. As a politician, and a vote-getter, Judy had no rival. She was comfortable in any setting, because she knew the issues, and she spoke the truth,” he said.