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Ex-Governor Known as 'Big Jim' Is Dead at 84

James R. Thompson made headlines for prosecuting public officials in Illinois
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 15, 2020 1:10 PM CDT

(Newser) – Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, whose prosecutions of public officials—including a predecessor—helped catapult him to become the state's longest-serving chief executive, has died, the AP reports. He was 84. Thompson, known as "Big Jim," died shortly after 8 p.m. Friday at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, his wife, Jayne, told the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. The Tribune, citing a police report, reported Thompson had been recovering there for several weeks after suffering heart problems. His longtime press secretary, serving as a family spokesperson, confirmed the death to the AP. "It was very sudden," his wife told the Tribune. "I was told that his heart simply stopped.”

Thompson was a prosecutor known for taking on Chicago's Democratic machine in a state infamous for political corruption when he was first elected governor in 1976. He led the state through a recession in the 1980s and served four terms before leaving office in 1991. A moderate Republican from Chicago, he worked across the political aisle to push through the construction of miles of highways and rebuild scores of bridges. He was also known for pushing to make political appointments based on talent, rather than past political or financial support. His work earned him praise from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said Thompson "was known to treat people he encountered with kindness and decency" and that he "set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud."

(Read more obituary stories.)

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