‘Larger than life’: Illinois GOP icon, former state Senate President James ‘Pate’ Philip Jr. has died

Former state Senate President James Peyton “Pate” Philip Jr. was a powerful suburban Republican at a time when that really meant something in Illinois.

Philip led the Senate from 1993 to 2003, the longest-serving Republican in that post. He was the last Republican to hold the job, retiring from elected service as Democrats took power in Springfield at the onset of a blue wave that hasn’t yet receded.

Philip, 93, died Nov. 21 at his Wood Dale home. His wife, Nancy, reportedly was by his side.

“It’s a sad day,” DuPage County Republican Party Chair and county board member Jim Zay said. “You won’t see a leader like Pate anymore.”

Former state representative and DuPage County Board Chair Deborah Conroy, an Elmhurst Democrat, recalled thinking Philip was “the greatest Republican political mind in DuPage County” when she was coming up in politics.

An Elmhurst native, Philip was a U.S. Marine who served in the early 1950s. After his military service, he attended Kansas State University and worked as a district sales manager for Pepperidge Farm Bakeries.

Philip was a lifelong Republican who began his political career in 1965 as York Township auditor. He was elected to the state House the following year and to the state Senate in 1975.

Philip was named the Senate’s Republican leader in 1993, holding that title until being elected senate president. His time in that post coincided with Elmhurst Republican Lee A. Daniels’ stint as House speaker, making DuPage County the state’s epicenter of GOP politics in the mid-1990s.

Philip also served as the DuPage County Republican Party Chairman for more than 30 years.

The cigar-smoking, silver-haired Philip was a physical symbol of old-school politics. From time to time he expressed views or made comments that countered the growing political correctness of the era.

Philip drew controversy in 1993 when he suggested then-state Attorney General Roland Burris did not prosecute U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun after allegations of Medicaid fraud arose because they’re both Black.

The following year, Philip again created racial tensions when he told the Daily Herald’s editorial board that some minorities in the Department of Children and Family Services “don’t have the same work ethics that we have.”

Philip often targeted Chicago and its multicultural population. He once compared sending tax dollars to Chicago schools to pouring money down a “rat hole.”

When then-Gov. Jim Edgar proposed raising the income tax to better fund public schools and reduce reliance on property taxes, Philip blocked the measure because he felt the deal wasn’t good for the suburbs.

Former state Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont described Philip as “a larger-than-life figure.”

“He was sometimes gruff and rough, but I really do believe he had a good heart,” said Radogno, who served in the Senate for 20 years, including as GOP leader after Philip’s time in the role.

Zay recalled Philip taking him under his wing when the younger man was getting active in GOP politics. Zay drove Philip in some parades and Philip helped Zay run for the county board.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Pate Philip’s help,” Zay said.

He noted Philip was a strong advocate for DuPage County, getting funds for the sheriff’s crime lab and other projects.

“He made sure DuPage was getting its fair share of everything down in Springfield,” Zay said.

Philip’s influence stretched beyond traditional politics.

In the 1980s, when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was considering building a new stadium for the team in Addison, Philip was among the DuPage County leaders opposing the plan – and eventually Reinsdorf scrapped it.

In 2005, the 501-acre Tri-County State Park on Stearns Road in Bartlett was renamed James “Pate” Philip State Park in his honor.

State Senate GOP leader John Curran praised Philip for a lifetime dedicated to serving others.

“His leadership will be missed, but his impact in our community and our state will be felt for many years to come,” said Curran, of Downers Grove. “Our caucus is mourning this great loss and sending prayers to his family and the many people who loved him.”

The DuPage County Young Republicans, the Cook County Republican Party and former GOP state Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst were among the groups and people expressing condolences on social media.

In a post on X, the Illinois House Republican caucus called Philip “a leader in Illinois state government for decades who was known for his ability to get things done in Springfield.”

In addition to his wife, Philip’s survivors include stepsons Randy Ramey, a former state representative and Wayne Township supervisor, and Kevin Ramey; daughter Cindi Wallace; son Jase Philip; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

At Philip’s request, no memorial service will be held and burial will be private.

Donations may be sent to Shriners Hospitals for Children-Chicago, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave., Chicago, IL, 60707-3392, with envelopes marked to the attention of Development Director Daniel K. Winter and in Philip’s memory.

• Daily Herald staff writer Alicia Fabbre contributed to this report.