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Former Rep. Bill Black dies at 81

Bill Black in 1996.
Judy Spencer/Illinois Issues
Bill Black in 1996.

A longtime Illinois House Republican floor leader died over the weekend. Bill Black, from Danville, was 81.

Black was known for his quick wit, which was often on display during floor debate.

He endeared himself to both sides of the aisle, irritating some in his own party for working with Democrats.

But he was also a fierce defender of the area he represented.

When he left the General Assembly, he was lauded for his work on infrastructure, job creation, protecting the rights of adoptive parents and more.

He could also be quick to anger. An Illinois Issues profile from 1996 mentions one of those instances:

In a confrontation that highlights the differences between downstaters and suburbanites, Black and Rep. Terry Parke, a Hoffman Estates Republican, began shoving each other during a 1992 debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to boost education funding.

Downstaters from both parties generally favored the amendment because their schools would get more state money under a complex formula that favors property-poor districts. Suburbanites believed their more affluent constituents would end up paying for the plan through higher income taxes but wouldn't see any of the benefits. As the debate raged on, Black and Parke wrestled each other into a chair before other legislators pried them apart.

"We've had our differences over the years, but I respect Bill for standing up for what he believes in," says Parke.

The Danville Commercial-News reports Black died Saturday, saying he had been in a nursing home in recent months.

He was appointed to the Illinois House in 1986 after Rep. Babe Woodyard was appointed to the Illinois Senate. He served until 2010.

“I have always tried my best to represent the legislative districts which I served. I may not have always succeeded, but I always tried,” he said when announcing his retirement from the General Assembly.

His dedication to the job was well known and highlighted in the Illinois Issues profile:

After an exhausted Black was rushed to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield in May 1994, the doctor asked if he was under any stress at work. Black laughed. The doctor told him to stay in his office and rest, but less than 15 minutes after returning to the Capitol, Black was back on the House floor denouncing an amendment rammed through by the Democrats. He screamed as loudly as he had earlier in the day.

Black’s legislative retirement resolution showed the lighthearted side of the lawmaker.

“Representative Black’s good humor is infectious, and House Republican members and staff can always count on Representative Black to make them laugh on long session days by ambushing them with squirt guns, silly string, and other toys, or by relaying a funny story or joke.”

He also did his homework, making sure to understand the legislation up for discussion.

A former teacher, Black spent time on the Danville City Council, Vermilion County Board and the Danville Area Community College Board.

He was given Legislator of the Year awards 28 times by various organizations.

"A legend has passed," wrote Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. "(He) was such a great mentor to so many of us who served in Illinois’ General Assembly. I was honored to be part of his tradition of hazing new legislators. I had been forewarned and donned protective gear when I introduced my first bill. He found that highly amusing and we got on great ever since. I’ve missed his insightful commentary since he retired. Illinois was lucky to have him as long as we did. I send my prayers to his family. May he rest in God’s peace and eternal glory."

Black is survived by his wife, Sharon, and two children.