With his wife Anne at his side, Richard (Rich) Kenneth Means, 78, of Oak Park died peacefully of complications of COVID-19 after a short illness, and despite superb clinical care by the staff of Rush Oak Park Hospital.
Born in Champaign in 1942 to the late Kenneth and Josephine Miller Means, after the war, the Means family settled in Western Springs, where they became active citizens for decades. Along with his father, two brothers, and four nephews, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. A gymnast in high school, he won a meet against Indiana Jones, aka Maine East trampoline opponent Harrison “Harry” Ford, which he considered his greatest athletic accomplishment. He graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1960.
After attending the University of Illinois, Shimer College, and the University of Stockholm, he graduated from Eastern New Mexico University with degrees in political science, sociology, and psychology. His university year abroad in Stockholm had a major impact on his life, exposing him to liberal ideas about the pro-active role of government in fostering a civil society that serves all. He considered Sweden his secondary home.
After graduating from the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in 1968, he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship in post-graduate studies in criminal and civil rights law. He was recently honored as a 50-year member of the Chicago Bar Association, in which he was active for decades. Twice past chairman of the Chicago Bar Association’s Election Law Committee and past executive director of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, he regularly contributed chapters on election ethics and recount law to the Illinois Bar Associations Election Law Manual and was viewed by many colleagues as one of the pre-eminent experts and election attorneys in Illinois.
In 1968, he began his long journey through progressive politics, serving on the campaign staff of presidential candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy at the time of the infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago. During the campaign, he was a volunteer driver for such liberal luminaries as Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith and writer Gore Vidal. He was also tear-gassed by the CPD in Grant Park and lived to tell the tale.
In 1969, he became staff counsel for Gov. Richard Ogilvie’s Office of Human Resources, where he was responsible for the development of legislation as well as policy administration of legal aid and anti-poverty programs. In the early ’70s, he established a private practice representing candidates and political organizations in election law matters, civil rights, and civil liberties litigation, representing conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War.
In 1974 he joined the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Bernard Carey as an assistant state’s attorney, responsible for election law administration, including overseeing a unit that investigated and prosecuted election fraud. His proudest professional accomplishment was serving as election lawyer for Harold Washington’s successful Chicago mayoral campaign in 1983, after which he served as a senior attorney and supervisor in the Department of Law for the city of Chicago.
In 1990, he left government law to again establish a private law practice focused on his first love in the field of law — supporting free and fair elections in a healthy democracy. He abhorred corruption in local and state politics and worked to expose it whenever he uncovered it. He represented political candidates of all persuasions — including several presidential candidates — regarding ballot access, political campaign strategy, recounts and election contests.
He was active in other civic organizations as well, including serving for 10 years on the Board of Directors of the Community Renewal Society, an agency concerned with issues of urban policy and, particularly, equity for minorities and the poor. He was past president of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association.
A member of the liberal advocacy group Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) for more than 50 years, he served as Illinois Chapter Chair of ADA, as well as a past state chairman of Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI). He proudly picketed the White House as a member of the ADA national board on the night of the Kent State Massacre in 1970.
He served for over 30 years as a member of the Advisory Board and founder of Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) and was dedicated to the cause of voting rights, participating in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights for African-American citizens in 2015.
As a resident of Oak Park for the past 16 years, he was a member of Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UTUUC). A fan of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture since his high school days, an enthusiastic lover of jazz and folk music, a gourmet cook, and a connoisseur of films, he and his wife hosted the Wednesday Evening Film Society at their home, now in its 15th year, where many stellar dinners, conversations, and films were savored by their wide circle of friends.
His was a rich, impactful, full-throated life — he tried to live out his values every day in the work he did for his clients and the community.
An adoring grandfather of Logan, Eve, and Soren, he never tired of going to baseball games, school performances, swimming, Family Game Nights, or making special blueberry pancake breakfasts for overnight guests. Besides his wife Anne, Rich is survived by his son Chris (Michele), daughter Annika (Andrew) Rothbaum, and son Alex Means. He was the much loved older brother of James (Linda) and Dexter (Lynne) Means as well as Margaret “Peggy” (James) Newman, and brother-in-law, uncle, and friend and colleague to many.
A virtual Celebration of Life service through Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation will be scheduled for late January. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the UTUUC Abundance Fund @ www.unitytemple.org, Beyond Hunger @ https://www.gobeyondhunger.org or Americans for Democratic Action @ https://adaction.org.