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Remembering Judy Baar Topinka: Outspoken Illinois Trailblazer, "Polka Queen"

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Politicians across the state are paying tribute to Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who has died at age 70.

The first woman to be elected Illinois State Treasurer and Illinois State Comptroller, she also was the first female Republican nominee for governor and first female Republican Party chair in Illinois.

Below are statements from several leaders in Illinois, remembering Topinka as an outspoken pioneer for women in Illinois:

--Gov. Pat Quinn

"We're going to miss Judy Baar Topinka; her commitment to public service over many years, in many different positions. She cared about everday people. I think we all know that, and we ask God to bless her immortal soul. We're going to really miss Judy Baar Topinka. She was one of the very best."

"I've known Judy for a very long period of time, and she was a force of nature. A good-natured person, if there ever was one, with a tremendous sense of humor, who cared about people, everyday people."

"She understood that politics – when all is said and done – is people, and she was a people person. She understood talking to everyday people in their neighborhoods, and where they worked, and where they shopped. That was her."

"I think the people of Illinois loved Judy Baar Topinka, and we all express that love today; to her family; to Joe, her son; and to her daughter-in-law, Christina; and to her granddaughter. There are no words in the English language to relieve the pain of losing someone so special."

--Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner

"Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. Comptroller Topinka's magnetic, one-of-a-kind personality brought a smile to everyone she met, and she had a servant's heart, always only caring about what was best for the people of our state. Judy was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to her family, including son Joseph, as well as her talented and loyal team in the Comptroller's office."

--U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk

"My friend and mentor's sudden passing is a shock and very saddening. Her death is a loss to all who knew her and to our great state. My prayers are with her family today, especially her beloved son Joseph."

--U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin

"The Illinois political scene lost its Polka Queen last night and I lost a friend. Judy Barr Topinka was one of a kind. In a political world of cocker spaniels, she could be a bulldog taking a bite out of both Democrats and right-wing Republicans without missing a beat. She was a blue-collar, immigrants' kid who lit up the room with her quick wit and boundless energy."

--Mayor Rahm Emanuel

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Judy had a passion for serving the people of Illinois that equaled her passion for life. For more than three decades, she brought a relentless work ethic, a determination to attack our state's fiscal challenges, and a sense of humor and smile that brightened the day of anyone in her path. As the first woman to serve as Illinois Treasurer, she will always have a special place in the history of our state. The thoughts and prayers of the City of Chicago are with Judy's son Joseph and her staff members, and her many friends during this difficult time."

--Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who lost to Topinka in the 2014 race for state comptroller

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Judy Baar Topinka's passing. People throughout Illinois will remember her for her many years of dedication to public service just as much as they will remember her for her larger than life personality. She truly loved the people of this state. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and staff as we mourn the loss of a legend in Illinois government."

--Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

"Today our state has suffered a great loss. Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer, a true public servant and a friend to all. Always jubilant and straight-talking, Judy spoke her mind on every issue. Even during tough political times, Judy always worked across party lines to get things done and brought humor and joy to everything she did. My thoughts and prayers are with her family."

--Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

"I'm shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of my friend Judy Baar Topinka. Judy committed her professional life to public service. She served the citizens of Illinois honorably and with distinction for decades beginning in the Illinois General Assembly, as the Illinois Treasurer and most recently in her capacity as State Comptroller. She was a great leader and a straight shooter who served Illinois with dignity. This is a sad day for Illinois and for me personally. She will be dearly missed."

--Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider

"Illinois lost a legend today. Over the course of more than three decades in Illinois politics, Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer, a leader, and a treasure to Illinoisans, and all who knew her. Her common-sense leadership was a breath of fresh air during some difficult times for our state, and Judy's energy lit up any room she was in. As Comptroller, as Treasurer, as Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, and as Riverside Township Committeeman, Judy was a groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind leader. She had a heart of gold. She cared about our state saving money and families saving money; she was an advocate for animals, for the military. And she loved her family, including the staff and volunteers she treated like family."

--Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan

"Judy Baar Topinka brought a special approach to every aspect of life. Illinois is a much better place because of her efforts. Shirley and I offer our prayers that her family is comforted during these sad times."

--Illinois Senate President John Cullerton

"We have suffered a great loss with the passing of Judy Baar Topinka. She was loved and will always be remembered because she was outspoken, independent and completely dedicated to the state. It was a special honor to serve with her during her time in the legislature. Her fierce advocacy and bipartisan leadership as a legislator and constitutional officer will continue to be a model for women and men entering public service in Illinois."

--Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno

"Judy Baar Topinka was one of the first politicians I ever became aware of - she was my state Senator before I came into politics. She was beautiful, funny and an independent thinker. I was always in awe of her. She had the qualities we admire in our friends and public officials. She was articulate, sincere and had a wonderful sense of humor. She was smart, practical, tolerant and honest. She wasn't afraid to take strong positions and stand to defend them. Judy will long be remembered by the people of Illinois. My family and I extend our condolences to her family and many friends."

--Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov

"The people of Illinois today lost a true original. Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka brightened every room she entered with her engaging laugh, and LGBT Illinoisans were included in her warm embrace. As a Republican statewide officeholder, Comptroller Topinka was a leader in supporting issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Illinoisans and demonstrating that equality and fairness were bipartisan concerns. She endorsed the freedom to marry during last year's debate and civil unions before that. At the signing ceremony for the marriage bill, she even offered to serve as a flower girl at any same-sex wedding that would have her. When Equality Illinois held its regular lobbying days in Springfield, Topinka and her office opened their doors to the delegation to make them feel that the Capitol was truly our home, too. Equality Illinois will always remember her regular presence at our annual galas, where Comptroller Topinka regularly received rousing receptions from the appreciative crowd. She was a welcomed presence at Chicago's Pride Parade, and many other LGBT events. Judy Baar Topinka demonstrated that political labels should not be a barrier to reaching out to all citizens. We will miss her."

--Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown

"I am heartbroken to have learned that Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died this morning. She was an exceptional person, a caring and hardworking public servant, a diligent advocate for quality education for all, a role model to me, and a great friend of mine. She was a fearless and outspoken woman who carved out an impressive career in Illinois government and politics that spanned 34 years. But it was her palpable compassion for people that defined her public service. As the first women to serve as our state treasurer, during her 13-year tenure, Judy put many innovative programs in place that truly helped people. Specifically, her 'Bridges' program taught elementary school children about money and banking, while her Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) enabled many bright young people to attend college. My thoughts and prayers are with Judy's family at this time. We have lost a great woman who truly made a difference in our lives. I will miss her dearly."

--Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, a former state lawmaker

"The State of Illinois lost a great leader today and I'm terribly sad to have lost a friend and mentor. Judy was truly one of a kind. Quirky, fun-loving, brilliant and loyal - all words I'd use to describe this jewel of a woman. Earlier this month, we lit the Palmer House Hilton Christmas tree, one of Chicago's oldest traditions. It turned out to be one of her last public experiences. Surrounded by children from local schools with guests snapping photos, it was hard to tell who was enjoying themselves more. After more than three decades in elected office, she could still give the kids a run for their money. Judy Baar Topinka was bold and fearless and she raised the standard for elected officials in Illinois. When it came to politics, Judy Baar Topinka was a warrior. She fought the good fight when she took on an incumbent Governor who ended up going to jail. History vindicated her campaign: We should have listened to Judy Baar Topinka because we would have been better off for it. I always admired her for her bravery in holding strong to her convictions and beliefs regardless of where her party stood - an example of that being her outspoken support of gay rights. Judy set the bar for what it means to work in a bipartisan way. She was beloved by people on the far reaches of both aisles because she was as genuine a human being as anyone could ever hope to be. Over the years we had the opportunity to partner for events that highlighted issues about which we were passionate: advocating for children, bringing needy animals together with loving owners, and celebrating the City and our State. I will treasure these moments we shared together just as I treasured her friendship. Our thoughts are with her friends, loved ones, her staff and family, especially her son Joey, of whom she was so proud. May her bright light continue to shine."

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