In May 2000, a reporter from the Journal Star called the office of the Diocese of Peoria and asked the woman who answered the telephone whether she could recommend a father of a large family who would be willing to be interviewed for a feature story that was scheduled to run the day after Father’s Day. The woman put the reporter on hold and asked some of the people in the office for suggestions, and my name came up. She then provided the reporter with my name and telephone number.
The reporter called me and asked if she could come to my home with a photographer on Father’s Day. She wanted to interview me, Georgette, and our older children. Because of my mistrust of the media, my initial reaction was to turn the reporter down. But instead, I told her I would think about it and call her back the next day. When I talked to Georgette about the request, she encouraged me to cooperate with the reporter, so I contacted her and arranged a time for her to come to my home on Father’s Day.
The plan was for the reporter to arrive at around 10:30 a.m. for the interviews. She was also planning on hanging around after the interviews to observe our family interact with each other. After the reporter finished the interviews, she ended up visiting with Georgette in the kitchen while Georgette prepared dinner for our family.
By the time the meal was ready, Georgette had convinced our visitors to stay and eat with us. Since both the reporter and photographer were single and their families lived outside of Central Illinois, they didn’t have any other plans for Father’s Day. They ended up leaving our home in the late afternoon, with the reporter and Georgette agreeing to keep in touch with each other.
The following day, there was a front-page, above-the-fold story in the Journal Star, with the headline, “Dad of seven says family time is best Father’s Day gift.” The story included one of the comments I always make to young couples who are planning on limiting the size of their families to only two children: “Every new child is like setting your marriage on fire again. Each time you have a child, you say ‘I do’ again for life.”
Two days after the story appeared, I received a hand-addressed envelope in the mail from the former mayor of the city of Peoria, Jim Maloof. Inside the envelope was the front-page article, which Jim had torn from his newspaper and folded and placed in the envelope. Included with the article was a handwritten note from Jim, praising me for my dedication to my wife and children.
Prior to that, I had not had very many dealings with Jim. Over the years, I had run into him on a handful of occasions at some local functions, and I had talked to him on the telephone a few times when I was representing individuals who were purchasing homes with realtors who worked for his company.
A few years after the Father’s Day article appeared, I called Jim at his office to ask him some questions about a legal issue that involved one of his employees. Before I could ask any questions, Jim asked how my “beautiful wife” and “lovely children” were doing. I responded that they were doing well. He followed up with some questions about my children. That was the way Jim always started a conversation. Since the most important thing to him was his family, he made sure to spend time talking to other people about what was most important to them – their families.
Prior to concluding the telephone call, I asked Jim how his business was doing, and he told me that everything was going well. At the age of eighty-four, he was still working at the office every day and was as optimistic as ever about the future. He talked and acted as though he was going to be around for another fifty years.
It was back in 1985, when Peoria was still reeling from a severe recession, that Jim was elected mayor. I remember the 1980s very well. After I graduated from St. Louis University Law School in 1982, Georgette and I moved back to Peoria so our children could grow up around their grandparents and extended family. When we moved, our son Harry was sixteen months old and Georgette was pregnant with our daughter Anna.
I received my license to practice law in November 1982, and because I was unable to find a job, I opened my own law practice in January 1983. At that time, a lawyer for whom I had done some carpentry work while I was in college told me that the only attorneys who were doing well were the bankruptcy attorneys. He told me that business owners were “constantly looking over their shoulders,” fearful of what was going to happen next.
If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know how much I despise politicians. Although Jim was a politician, he was different from the rest of them. While many politicians don’t care about the effect their policies have on families and businesses, Jim cared deeply about the families and businesses in his community. In particular, he had a great love and affection for children.
Few people know this, but as a young couple, Jim and his wife, Trudy, experienced the ultimate human tragedy when one of their sons unexpectedly died. Jim knew from personal experience the suffering involved in having to work at putting back together a life that was shattered by the sudden loss of a child.
Jim’s tireless support of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital proved how much he cared about children and their families. True to his belief that life begins at conception, there was one instance during his time as mayor when he publicly stated that it was in the best interest of the city of Peoria to promote prolife values rather than support any organization that supported abortion. Needless to say, he was viciously attacked by the media and local leaders for leading people to believe that his personal views represented the views of the city of Peoria.
Prior to Jim being elected mayor, there was a saying that had become popular among the local residents: “Will the last person in Peoria turn out the lights?” People who had lost their jobs in the late ’70s and early ’80s were moving out of the city in droves. The recession hurt Jim’s business as much as it hurt the other local businesses. As a result, he suffered financial hardship, but it wasn’t in his nature to give up and throw in the towel. His faith in God, in his family, and in his community gave him the confidence to declare himself a leader who could pull Peoria out of the gutter.
The dictionary defines “light” as “something that makes vision possible” and “the sensation aroused by stimulation of the visual receptors.” At a time when people were talking about who was going to turn out the last light in Peoria, Jim Maloof stepped forward and lit up the city with a new vision. He used his humor, charm, and charisma to arouse the people of Peoria and stimulate them to look to the future rather than the past. He was honest to a fault, and he used his negotiating and deal-making skills to push the city council and local business leaders in a direction that brought new growth and prosperity to our community.
On January 19, 2013, at the age of ninety-three, Peoria’s brightest light went out. May he rest in peace.