News - Joliet and Will County

Larry Walsh Sr. remembered as friend and champion for Will County

Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., who died Wednesday, shakes hands with supporters and county board members in August after announcing he would not  seek re-election because of a recurrence of prostrate cancer.

Larry Walsh Sr. is being remembered as a leader, a friend and a politician who brought people together while making Will County a better place during his 50 years of public service.

He likely was the best-known politician in Will County, who developed friendships over the years with countless numbers of people from Jackson Township to the White House.

“Like the rest of the county and the state of Illinois, we’re all saddened by his death,” said the Rev. Herb Brooks Jr., a Will County Board member who called Walsh “a friend and a mentor.”

Before becoming Will County executive, a position he held from 2004 until his death Wednesday at age of 72, Walsh served in the state Senate where his friends included former Illinois legislator Barack Obama.

When Walsh was honored at a ceremony last year, Obama was brought in by video to join the festivities and joked about Springfield card games during legislative sessions that had become so legendary that they were mentioned in a Time magazine item quoting Walsh.

"Barack Obama came on TV and said despite what Larry Walsh tells you about me, I was a good card player," Brooks said, remembering from the ceremony.

Walsh was a farmer from Jackson Township.

His ability to build friendships with people like Obama, a Chicago lawyer with a background as a community activist on the South Side, was typical of a personality that crossed social barriers.

“Larry is a one-of-a-kind guy who always had a hearty laugh and smile for those he interacted with, no matter a person’s place in life,” Nick Palmer, who worked for Walsh as his chief of staff at the county, said in a statement. “He knew the cleaning crew and he knew the [former] president of the United States Barack Obama. He loved them all and always talked about the friendships he had made throughout his life in Will County.”

Walsh’s personality was boisterous. His laughter was contagious. His head of curly white hair was a trademark. And his ability to talk at length on almost any issue was remarkable.

State Senate President Don Harmon put out a statement saying Walsh “never failed to make me smile or laugh or feel better about the world.”

“Whenever I think of Will County, I will forever think of Larry Walsh,” Harmon said. “Larry was a tireless advocate for his constituents and communities.”

While battling prostrate cancer, Walsh’s voice became weaker, and he would often stutter his way through speeches. But it didn’t deter his familiar rambling, homespun style of oratory.

He was the most influential Democrat in Will County with a practical approach to politics that did not shun Republicans.

Jim Moustis, a leading Republican on the County Board, counted Walsh as a friend since 1992.

“He always wanted the best for the people of Will County and was a true leader,” Moustis said. “I will sadly miss him and have had great respect for him, despite our differences at times.”

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, called Walsh “the embodiment of a great public servant” who “was always willing to help anyone who needed it. He was a master of retail politics and attended as many functions in Will County as he could. What I will remember most about Larry is that he was willing to reach across the aisle in order to get things done.”

Walsh began his career in politics and government at the age of 21 as a member of the Elwood School Board. He later became Jackson Township supervisor and a member of the Will County Board before being elected to the state senate and later county executive.

The county has embarked on the largest public capital campaign in its history, which includes the new courthouse under construction downtown. The county also has a new Public Safety Complex and a new public health facility is under construction.

The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which honored Walsh last year at the ceremony Obama joined by video, issued a statement calling him “a tremendous advocate and friend.”

"The most important thing that Larry gave us was a willingness to work with everyone, no matter what the political spectrum," said John Greuling, president and chief executive of the Will County Center for Economic Development.

Denise Winfrey, speaker of the Will County Board, said Walsh “touched numerous lives, forged alliances and reached out to work with people from all walks of life.”

Pat Meade, a nurse and lead negotiator in contract talks with AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet, choked up in tears talking about Walsh as she led a union rally on Thursday.

“Anybody who needed something in Joliet – he was a politician’s politician, and he was a man,” Meade said. “He would walk beside us.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News