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Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson Dies At 84

Illinois Governor James R. Thompson arriving for Illinois Math and Science Academy Dedication on December 14, 1989

Former Illinois Gov.  James R. Thompson has died. He was 84.

His wife, Jayne, told the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times that he died shortly after 8 p.m. Friday at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. The Tribune, citing a police report, reported Thompson had been recovering there for several weeks after suffering heart problems. 

The Republican Thompson was Illinois’ longest-serving governor from 1977-1991. He was known as “Big Jim” due to his six foot six frame.

According to his biography from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum based in Springfield, Thompson first came to prominence as a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.  He prosecuted former governor Otto Kerner on corruption charges.

Thompson was considered a moderate Republican and fiscal conservative. During his tenure, he created the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Thompson Oral History Project

After serving as governor, he worked in the private sector as chair of the Chicago law firm, Winston and Strawn. He also served on the 9/11 Commission, and helped defend Governor George Ryan during Ryan’s corruption trial.

In 1979, under Thompson’s administration, lawmakers acquired the law school for Northern Illinois University from Lewis University. In 2013, Thompson received an honorary degree from NIU’s law school.

Governor JB Pritzker released the following statement on the passing of  Thompson:

“On behalf of the entire state of Illinois, MK and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Governor Jim Thompson. As the longest-serving governor in Illinois history, ‘Big Jim’ was known to treat people he encountered with kindness and decency. He dedicated himself to building positive change for Illinois, and he set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud. He will be remembered and revered as one of the titans in the history of state government.”

Former Governor Pat Quinn released this statement on Thompson’s death:

“From the time he signed the Political Honesty Initiative – to stop legislative conflicts of interest, double dipping, and advance pay for politicians – when he was first running for Governor in 1976, Gov. Jim Thompson stood for cleaning up corruption in Illinois politics and government.  As US Attorney, he brought to justice scores of corrupt public officials. As Governor of Illinois for a record 14 years, Jim Thompson always remained true to his conscience and convictions. Jim Thompson generously helped me when I was Governor of Illinois from 2009 to 2015.  For the past four decades, he has strengthened the annual conference of US midwest states and the people and businesses of Japan, an international legacy of friendship that created and maintained thousands of jobs in Illinois. The people of Illinois owe a permanent debt of gratitude to Gov. James R. ‘Big Jim’ Thompson. May God rest his eternal soul.”

Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Public Radio

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