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Former Illinois Senate President Phil Rock Dead At 78

Illinois Issues

Illinois’ longest-serving state Senate president died Friday. He was 78.

Philip Rock, a Democrat from Oak Park who had once given serious consideration to running for governor against Jim Thompson, took his seat in the Senate in 1971 and was elected to lead it in 1979. 

Current Senate President John Cullerton said in a prepared release: “When I was appointed to the Senate in 1991, Phil Rock was the Senate President. He took me under his wing, showed me the ropes and couldn’t have been nicer about it. He was THE most articulate orator of anyone I’ve ever served with, a talent he told me he learned in the seminary.”

  According to his obituary, he “was most proud of the legislation that he sponsored to establish a school for the deaf and blind that is located in Glen Ellyn and was dedicated in 1988 as the Philip J. Rock Center and School.”

Mike Lawrence, who covered Rock as a statehouse reporter says of him: “He was a giant in the legislature and in state government. To me, he was a classic kind of legislator. He personified what we should all hope a lawmaker — really any leader — should be.” Lawrence’s time working as a senior adviser for former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar overlapped with the last two years of Rock’s Senate tenure.

Ed Wojcicki, the co-author of Rock’s autobiography, “Nobody Calls Just To Say Hello,” says legislation Rock orchestrated that he took pride in also included the Illinois’ first domestic violence act, a law on reporting of abuse and neglect of children and the 1975 rewrite of the horse-racing act.

“He really felt it was government’s mission to help people as much as possible,” says Wojcicki.

After 14 years at the helm of of the Senate, he stepped down as Republicans were preparing to take the charge.

A 1989 Illinois Issues profile noted:

“In short, on social issues Rock is a liberal. And he admits it. On other litmus tests he fails. He is for the death penalty, against judicial merit selection (he calls it “"appointment by elitists”) and pro-life on the abortion issue.” Rock later served on the Illinois Issues advisory board.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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