Dawn Clark Netsch, June 29, 2008.| Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Updated: April 7, 2013 6:20AM
Dawn Clark Netsch was the best kind of role model, for women and for all of us.
The kind who broke countless barriers. The kind who inspired young women. The kind who committed for the long haul and never gave up.
But also one who didn’t set out to make a grand statement for women.
Netsch paved a way for women as she sought larger goals: advancing equality for all and promoting a government that is truly ethical, fair and just.
It is for that plucky and determined effort, along with her many firsts as a woman, that we deeply mourn the passing of Netsch, our state’s great friend and leader.
Dawn Clark Netsch died Tuesday from complications from ALS. She was 86 years old.
For more than six decades, Netsch held her own in Illinois politics, a territory controlled almost completely by men.
The first woman to be elected to statewide office, the first female nominee for governor, among the first female law professors, Netsch made a career of breaking glass ceilings.
But “if you had asked her what kind of feminist she was, she would have been offended,” her nephew, Andy Kerr, told us. “Her feeling was she wanted to be a good politician. If she was a woman, even better.”
And she did it with integrity, humor and a purity of devotion to good policy.
“She survived 60 years in Illinois politics with her reputation as sound as it was when she went in,” Kerr said. “That’s uncharted land in itself in Illinois.”
For all those smart, wonky girls out there in Illinois, Netsch was the ultimate role model.
You can show your smarts, she taught them. You can be true to your principles, she made clear. And you don’t have to take yourself seriously all the time.
“She loved baseball, food and opera; the last time I talked to her it was about Dennis Rodman,” said Cindi Canary, a friend and fellow good-government advocate. “She lived her life with a lot of joy and passion.”
She also never stopped. Till the end, Netsch served on two government commissions, talked with reporters about the best ways to fix the state’s finances, pushed for a more fair state income tax system and same-sex marriage.
Dawn Clark Netsch, always humorous, whip smart and wonky, showed Illinois women — and men — the way.