SPRINGFIELD -- Ex-state Rep. Bill Edley had never met former Gov. Dan Walker. Retired state police superintendent Dwight Pitman worked for Walker. Both were among dozens of people in line at a book signing in Springfield Tuesday who got a chance to interact with Illinois’ former chief executive.
By BERNARD SCHOENBURG
SPRINGFIELD -- Ex-state Rep. Bill Edley had never met former Gov. Dan Walker. Retired state police superintendent Dwight Pitman worked for Walker.
Both were among dozens of people in line at a book signing in Springfield Tuesday who got a chance to interact with Illinois’ former chief executive.
Walker, 84, now with homes in California and Mexico, signed copies of his new autobiography, “The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story,” at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. The line snaked from a small table around some shelves and through a cafe area, and Walker’s son, Charlie, said he was told that about 200 books were signed.
Edley, 59, who now works for the Department of Corrections in Springfield but lived in Macomb when he won a House seat in 1988, said his own campaign style was inspired by an oral history he read in which Walker recounted his 1972 campaign.
“I knocked on 17,000 doors,” Edley said. “It was a hot summer. Many times, I thought of Dan Walker walking through the state … and it kind of gave me the inspiration to keep going.”
Edley, a Democrat, ended up defeating then-Sen. Ken McMillan, R-Bushnell, in a district considered Republican.
Pitman, 79, of Springfield, said he had been a state police captain who was among officers told they should apply for superintendent. But he never expected to get the nod — given a sentence he wrote in at the end of the application.
“I said that if the governor is interested in someone in the superintendent’s office who will react to political pressure for hiring, promotion, assignment or discipline, then I’m not the man for the job, because it has no place in police work,” Pitman recalled Tuesday.
When Walker finally offered him the job, he said, “I nearly fell out of the chair.” Walker also told him, he said, that “if I appoint you and you accept and you change your philosophy, I’ll be looking for a new chief.”
Pitman said Walker kept his word. The governor would write back to politicians making requests about state police matters, telling them he didn’t get involved. He would send copies of those letters to Pitman, writing on them, “See, I told you,” Pitman said.
Pitman stayed with the state police after Walker’s single term, from 1973-77, and retired as a major. Pitman’s youngest daughter, Marsha Stout of Sherman, now a first-grade teacher at Graham Elementary School, was also at the bookstore Tuesday, and Walker signed an original picture she had of herself and Walker when she was 4.
Walker, the last Democratic governor until the 2003 inauguration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, relished the chance to see people with whom he had worked, and made a point to mention Pitman in a telephone conversation later Tuesday.
“Dwight Pitman is in a very real way a symbol of my administration and my insistence in taking politics out of things where politics should not be,” Walker said as he was traveling to Chicago, where interviews about the book were scheduled.
The book recounts Walker’s rise in business and government, and also his financial and business trouble once out of office that led to 18 months in a federal prison. But the Walker years of Illinois state government seemed paramount on minds of people getting books signed Tuesday.
Former Auburn Mayor George Brown, 63, a retired state worker, was a student at the old Sangamon State University when he first helped with Walker’s campaign.
“He was probably the original reason I got involved in politics,” Brown said. “That time was kind of turbulent … (and) many of us who were downstate worked against the Chicago operation.”
Former Springfield Fire Chief Bob Bartnick said he was a security guard at the Illinois State Fair when Walker was governor.
“Once in a while, I’d be assigned to the front gate,” Bartnick said. “Every time he came onto the fairgrounds, he made a point to stop and chat for a few minutes. I thought that was pretty nice.”
Retired lobbyist John Ryan of Springfield was legislative liaison for the old mental health department under Walker, and considers Walker “probably one of the smartest governors we had.” He recalls a morning meeting to brief the governor on a new initiative coming before the General Assembly that day.
“He knew every part of the project,” Ryan said. “We did not brief him. He briefed us.”
Gary Koch, 56, communications director for the Illinois Municipal League, left a job at the old Illinois State Journal to work for the old Department of Local Government Affairs under Walker.
“He would go around to all the state agencies periodically and have meetings with the directors and the top staff,” Koch said. “Then, after the meeting was over, he would go around and shake hands with every employee.”
Sangamon County Auditor Paul Palazzolo, a Republican, said he got a book because, “It’s history, and there are lessons to be learned from every public leader.”
And retired state transportation department spokesman Dick Adorjan got a book for himself and one for Walker’s secretary of transportation, Langhorne Bond, who now lives in Virginia.
“What really impressed me about Walker is he read the briefing papers in great detail, and if it was a good briefing paper — I mean it really had to be good — he would actually send you little note saying, ‘good job,’” Adorjan said. “And that’s something that I have always appreciated about the governor.”
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.