John Philbin died the other day. He was 89. A former Oak Park village trustee and village president, he had been out of office for nearly 20 years. And while we understand that is time enough for many people to forget a name and for the history to fade some, we are here to say that John Philbin is strong in our memory and in our hearts.
You don’t forget simple decency, a gentle approach, keen observation, surety of principle, an easy sense of self, a wry tone. To us, John Philbin had so many of the virtues essential in public service. He knew himself and had no need to be the show. He was a strong listener, but he knew when he was hearing nonsense. He had the history but wasn’t bound by its limits.
From 1977 through 1993, John Philbin served a full and a fill-in term as a village trustee, and when called, he stepped back to be elected village president. He didn’t need to sit behind the half-circle desk at village hall to know who he was or what he valued. But when he was called to service, he served.
Mr. Philbin came to village government in the years immediately after the declaration of an integrated future was trumpeted for Oak Park. He served on the boards charged with actually sorting out methods of fostering racial diversity, not simply declaring it as an aspirational target.
A man with an interesting career within the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese, Mr. Philbin was also the father of seven, husband of Mary, and, by all accounts a fantastic neighbor and friend. We will always remember him with affection and respect.