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Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson

Illinois’ 37th governor (1977-91) | Died in 2020 at age 84

Technically, ‘Big Jim' Thompson didn’t attend the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus.

But the state’s longest-serving governor, who died on Aug. 14, 2020 at age 84, put in at least a semester’s worth of time here during his 14 years running the Land of Lincoln.

“I attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier — Harvard on the Rocks — but my favorite campus spots were Memorial Stadium and the Assembly Hall,” he told us in 2017 for our ‘UI at 150 & Beyond’ project.

“I signed the 21-year-old drinking bill on the field at the stadium — very unpopular reception — but, along with Willie Nelson, I brought the first Farm Aid to the stadium.

“I would fly from Springfield to the Assembly Hall, don the warpaint and cheer on the Illini as governor. Used to get complaints from other Midwestern governors whose students wanted to know why they didn’t wear their school colors.”

Tributes poured in following his death from Illinois governors past (“He stood for cleaning up corruption in Illinois politics and government,” said Pat Quinn) and present (“He set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud,” said J.B. Pritzker).