Laurence Msall, head of the Chicago Civic Federation, in 2010.

Many across Illinois are mourning the passing of Laurence Msall, who unexpectedly died Saturday following complications from heart surgery. He was 61. A longtime Oak Park resident, Msall spent the last 21 years as president of the Civic Federation, a bi-partisan research organization working to reduce government costs and improve public services. 

While heartfelt tributes flooded in from journalists, politicians and policy makers across the state there was also a genuine sense of loss in Oak Park where he was known for both his professional work and as a parishioner at St. Giles, the organizer of an informal weekly basketball game at Irving School and as a dedicated volunteer at L’Arche Chicago, a nonprofit offering care to those with intellectual disabilities. 

Msall had known Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, also an Oak Parker, since elementary school. Both attended St. Ignatius College Prep and Knox College. Msall went on to earn a juris doctorate in 1992 at Loyola University School of Law. Harmon told Wednesday Journal he was “heartbroken” by the death of Msall, whom he called a “great, great human being.”

“Laurence was always there for steady, quiet counsel. He gave you the unvarnished truth whether he knew you for 45 years or just met you,” Harmon said. “He had worked in state government and so he knew what we were up against. He never asked us to do something politically impossible, but he would always bang the drum for more and better policies.”

Msall was an active member of St. Giles Catholic Parish, 1045 Columbian Ave., and even encouraged Harmon’s family to join. A funeral mass for Msall will be held at St. Giles at 10 a.m., Feb. 8. 

Rev. Carl Morello, St. Giles pastor, said Msall, whom he called a man of service, cared deeply for others, especially those who have struggled, and was a source of wise counsel to many. 

“He was always kind in his words yet not afraid to challenge thoughts and actions that were detrimental to individuals or society at large. His death is a tragic loss to all who knew and loved him,” said Morello. “Larry was a man of faith and these words come to mind now – Jesus saying to Larry, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’”

David Pope, former Oak Park village president and now CEO of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, said, “I was shocked and saddened to learn of Laurence’s passing.  He has been a champion for thoughtful, informed, responsible government decision-making here in our region and across Illinois for so long.  His impact can’t be overstated.  On so many issues, Laurence served as the conscience of the state.

“Here in Oak Park, so many of us have been fortunate to know him in other ways as well, whether as a friend, a neighbor, a fellow parishioner, or a committed community member.  And, understanding the impact that he had in so many arenas, even those who did not know Laurence will undoubtedly have their lives touched by his passing in ways they don’t even realize.  This truly is a great loss to all of us and my heart goes out to his wife and children on this very sad day.”

A statement released by the Civic Federation read, “While Laurence was the Civic Federation to so many in the community, his real legacy was in helping to make the federation the indispensable voice for fiscal responsibility throughout the state of Illinois, and that mission will go on through the outstanding staff that Laurence developed.” 

In lieu of flowers, the Msall family requests donations be made in his memory to the Forest Park-based non-profit organization, L’Arche Chicago, which works to help adults with intellectual disabilities lead happy, fulfilling lives. Msall, whose sister lives in one of L’Arche’s group homes, was a committed supporter of the organization.

L’Arche Executive Director Mic Altena shared many fond memories of Msall in a statement, including how Msall hosted him for Christmas in 2009, when Altena was working part-time with L’Arche as a support worker. 

“Still being new to Chicago, it was one of the first homes I’d been invited to. I couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed by Laurence, even though I was a new, occasional face in L’Arche,” Altena wrote in the statement.

 Altena called Msall a “reliable attendee” at all L’Arche fundraising events, even serving as a stand-in bartender for several years, and always looked for opportunities to benefit the organization.

“While being highly accomplished, well connected, and full of ideas, he always had time and resources to share, and always shared them in a spirit of relationship and care,” Altena wrote.

See the obituary for Laurence Msall on page 33.

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