By Devin Rose
John Philbin, a former Oak Park village president and trustee who was a leader during the village's integration era, died Thursday in his Oak Park home at the age of 89.
So much of Philbin's life was about service, said his daughter, Marianne, and service to Oak Park in particular. He had the natural instincts of an activist, his daughter said, and it seemed to be a given that he'd be involved in his community in some way.
"I think he just felt that it was not only a responsibility but a gift to be able to live in the community and to be a part of it," Marianne said.
He served as a village trustee from 1977 to 1981 but was appointed again in 1983 when another trustee stepped down. That term ended in 1985, said Village Clerk Teresa Powell. Philbin was elected village president in 1989 and served until 1993.
Philbin was involved early in the Oak Park Regional Housing Center as it pursued its goal of encouraging racial diversity in the village. His era of service fell during a time of rapid racial change in neighboring Austin where Philbin grew up.
He attended college before serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Marianne said he taught for a while after the war and then started working for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He served as the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the archdiocese as well as director of finance.
At home, he would engage anyone he invited in, asking where they were from and what was happening in their life, his daughter said. He loved history and geography, and would amaze people with his knowledge about places many didn't know existed. Marianne said he struck up a friendship with a Jordanian owner of a gas station near his home because he knew the town where the man was from.
"He loved to just engage people and was really wonderful at [making] people part of whatever was happening," she said.
Virginia Cassin, Oak Park's village clerk for many years, said his ability to add fun to situations made him a good person to work with.
"He had this dry humor that he could bring to pretty serious subjects," Cassin said. The former village clerk remembered her retirement ceremony at village hall, when then-president Philbin read a resolution marking the event that had his trademark humor interspersed throughout. Cassin called him a prudent man who thought things through very well.
Village President David Pope said Philbin "provided a great dedication and forward-thinking guidance for our community at a time when we faced real challenges."
Mr. Philbin is survived by his wife, Mary (nee Duggan); his seven children, Mimi Carlson, Marianne, John, Joseph, Madeleine, Meg McKinley and James Mischler-Philbin; and 13 grandchildren.
Visitation was held on Nov. 12 from 3 to 9 p.m. at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home, 203 S. Marion St. The funeral Mass was celebrated at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 13 at St. Edmund Church, 188 S. Oak Park Ave.
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