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Former Gov. Dan Walker dead at 92

 
By Bernard Schoenberg
State Journal-Register
Posted on 4/30/2015, 10:07 AM

Former Gov. Dan Walker, who served in the state"s top job for a single term from 1973 to 1977, died early Wednesday at a veterans hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., according to his son, Will. He was 92.

Will Walker, of Crystal Lake, said old age caught up to his father.

"Ultimately, it was heart failure that got him," the younger Walker, of Crystal Lake, told The State Journal-Register.

"A lot of people certainly know him as a public figure, but he was so much more than that to all of us," Will Walker said. "He was a great father. He was a great family man. He did a wonderful job raising seven kids, 22 grandchildren."

Dan Walker died at 1:38 a.m. local time in California, his son said. He is survived by his wife and seven children. Funeral arrangements were not yet set.

A little-known corporate attorney, Walker grabbed voters' attention in 1971 by walking across Illinois for 116 days, sleeping in farmhouses along the way.

"Government is out of touch with the people," Walker would proclaim in his speeches that featured promises to hold down taxes and increase education spending.

Walker captured the Democratic nomination for governor over the establishment candidate, then-Lt. Gov. Paul Simon. He went on to beat the Republican incumbent who had established Illinois' first income tax.

Once in office, Walker alienated leaders of both parties, particularly Democratic powerhouse Richard J. Daley, the mayor of Chicago.

Walker later maintained that he tried to work with the political establishment but was rejected from the outset.

"I was disliked by the professionals in both parties holding leadership positions as well as by the lower-echelon party regulars from Chicago," he wrote in his book, "The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story." "Daley and the Chicago machine certainly did not want to see me succeed. The legislative leaders of both parties made no secret of their desire to 'get Dan Walker,' as they openly put it."

After leaving office, Walker became the head of a suburban Chicago savings and loan, where he cut corners and used the business to support a lavish lifestyle. Walker pleaded guilty to fraud and perjury and served 18 months in federal prison.

He later wrote eloquently about the trauma of life behind bars.

"The only spot of color out in the prison yard looms before me: a tall water tower painted red and white," Walker wrote.

"It offers an alternative to my misery," he wrote. "I could, if things get any worse, climb it and jump before anyone could stop me."

Taylor Pensoneau of New Berlin, lead author of the 1993 book, "Dan Walker: The Glory and The Tragedy," noted the conviction "had nothing to do at all with being governor of Illinois."