MPC staff and Board members share their reflections of more than a decade of partnership with Thomas Weisner, the former Mayor of Aurora, and a Senior Fellow here at MPC. Tom passed away on December 28, 2018.
Thomas Weisner was a remarkable leader, and while we are saddened at his passing, we are grateful for the many, many years of collaboration. This Daily Herald article includes a good overview about his accomplishments and legacy, both locally and regionally. Our work with Tom over the years ranged from work on affordable housing to his instrumental role in the development of Drinking Water 1-2-3. Here, members of the MPC staff and Board share their reflections on Tom, his life of service and our collaboration over the years.
MarySue Barrett, President
The whole MPC family mourns the passing of our friend and colleague, Thomas Weisner. Over the course of MPC's 85 years, the organization has been fortunate to have worked with many local and regional leaders to make northeastern Illinois a better place for all, but my 15 years of collaboration with him, first as the longtime Mayor of Aurora, and then as a Senior Fellow at MPC, really stand out. The ground we covered together—from affordable housing to naturalized stormwater infrastructure, from transit-oriented development to regional comprehensive planning, and sustainable water supply management—speaks to the breadth of that partnership. But it was during my visits to Aurora where I really got to see Tom in his element—whether that was touring the Paramount Theater, or hanging out at Ballydoyle after an MPC staff retreat, or inspecting some of the first bioswales I had ever seen —his passion, compassion and pride in his community shone through. There just aren't many U.S. mayors that walk around their downtowns checking in on small business owners, and even less so in cities of 200,000 people, but that was Tom. Thanks to him, I return to the Paramount Theater to regularly enjoy their top-notch musicals and to marvel at his legacy.
I was thrilled when Tom accepted our invitation to join us as a volunteer Senior Fellow. His shrewd political insights and passion for protecting our shared water resources has been instrumental to MPC's expanding impact. I am so grateful for the time he spent with us, and proud to have called him a colleague and treasured friend. The recent holiday letter I received from Tom and Marilyn brought tears to my eyes, but also a smile. Once again, Tom made me chuckle and appreciate all that is good about this place we call home.
Danielle Gallet, Director of Water Resources
I first met Tom Weisner while working on what would become Water 2050: Northeastern Illinois’ Regional Water Supply/Demand Plan at CMAP in 2007, and subsequently through his leadership of the Northwest Water Planning Alliance. Most recently, I had the sincere pleasure of partnering and working directly with Tom on MPC’s water supply work when he joined us as a Senior Fellow in 2017. His intelligence, vision and creativity, political savvy, kindness and willingness to be bold made him a force—for good, for diplomacy and for common sense action.
Tom was passionate about water and sustainable water systems, something we had in common, and it was wonderful to work alongside a well-respected public official willing to stand up and speak out about such an important but often overlooked community livability requirement.
I learned so much from him during our time together out around the region meeting with countless community leaders. Including important reminders like how an earnest, well-timed side conversation can catapult a community into much needed action, and how the power of a genuine, thoughtful compliment can make all the difference for someone.
He was a fantastic person to work with—always up for talking through strategy and collaboratively weighing out options—our work together was a true partnership where we played to one another’s strengths. And we accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.
But what is most important for me to give voice to here, is that Tom was not only a trusted colleague and valued mentor to me, he was my friend. And while his many and varied accomplishments in life, in public office and in service to the greater good are extensive and speak for themselves, he will live on in my memory as the friend who often texted me pictures of flowers and butterflies from his yard since he knew how much I appreciated them. The friend who was always bringing in something delicious to share with us at the office, and who I spent time with over a beverage or meal, having meaningful conversations about life and just laughing about it all, together.
These are some of my favorite images he sent me.
Paula Wolff, Illinois Justice Project and MPC Board Member
It was an honor to serve with Mayor Weisner on the Illinois Tollway Board. He was a perfect board member—conscientious, always prepared, supportive of the work, but willing to ask the hard questions that make a board better. Mayor Weisner brought a particularly useful perspective to a board which was primarily known for pouring concrete over vast swaths of open lands. Because of his effective work in Aurora on environmental issues, he had the credibility to nudge the board about its responsibility to the environment. Of substantial importance was his initiative to create natural habitat for the monarch butterfly along the tollway roadsides throughout the metropolitan area. It was a memorable board meeting when representatives of construction companies, engineers, members of banks and bond-houses showed up in the gallery to what they thought would be a standard board meeting and discovered they were to be treated to a great PowerPoint presentation on butterflies. His quiet and determined presence certainly left no room for the concrete-lovers to argue about this Tollway investment. When you see butterflies along the Tollway, thank Mayor Weisner.
This fall, we had lunch and he talked about his MPC work. Characteristically, he said in a humble way, “I really enjoy it because I THINK I am making a difference.” Always the master of understatement!
Gabriel Charles Tyler, Marketing Associate
Mayor Tom Weisner made a huge impact on my life. There are countless memories I’ll cherish, but one in particular stands out to me. When we weren’t talking about work, we would often catch up on the research I’m conducting on my maternal grandfather’s journey to Chicago during the Great Migration. One day, I came into the office to a note Tom had left me about Isabel Wilkerson’s book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which is considered the most in-depth historical account of the movement of black Americans from the South during this period. Tom was always thoughtful like that. And in many ways, he reminded me of my grandfather: He was generous without hesitation, he always had wise advice, and he had the type of presence that was subtle but could fill up any room. Our frequent chats meant a lot to me—and I’ll miss them and Tom deeply. My thoughts and prayers are with Marilyn, his entire family, and anyone who’s been inspired by him.
Nancy Firfer, Senior Advisor and former President of the Village of Glenview
Mayor Tom Weisner was one of the most transformational mayors in the region. He not only had the vision to see what was possible, but the ability to follow it through and make it happen. He realized the value that culture brings to a community which is why he prioritized restoring a magnificent historic theater to its original beauty, and bringing first-class theater and entertainment to the downtown. He developed the riverfront for the community to enjoy, even adding an amphitheater for concerts.
Mayor Weisner understood what good planning is and listened to the advice of those he sought out. Aurora was one of the first communities that participated in the “Homes for a Changing Region” project that created a forward-looking housing policy plan for Aurora. He utilized the recommendations, especially creating transit oriented development in proximity to its train station and multi-family housing to support the downtown.
Josh Ellis, Vice President
Tom taught me a lot about how to think regionally and how to be a good partner. But if I'm being honest, when we first met, I didn't make a great impression. We were about to release Before the Wells Run Dry, which included a blueprint for the future of regional water supply planning in northeastern Illinois. We wrote it as a companion piece to Water 2050, the actual regional water supply plan. Taken together, the two documents were an effective wake-up call that the whole region needed to take its water future more seriously. At the same time, it was also a lot all at once, and Tom and a few other mayors from the western suburbs were concerned about losing control of their water, but also that their very significant groundwater issues would get overlooked because the majority of the region is on lake water. That was the context. So our first conversation went something like, "Hi, I'm Josh, isn't this report great?" To which Tom responded more or less with, "Hi, I'm the Mayor of Aurora, and let me tell you a thing or two."
Fast forward a couple of years and we were working on legislative ideas together, building the Northwest Water Planning Alliance, speaking on panels at the Illinois Municipal League, and generally trying to advance our common cause of securing a sustainable future for the millions of people living in the western suburbs who depend on deep aquifers. That took time, patience and honesty - qualties that Tom embodies. It also took a few beers at the Two Brothers Roundhouse, and I remember one long night there, after the opening of River Edge Park (since renamed for Tom), where we spoke for hours about the region and its leaders, the dilemma inherent in most of the prominent civic organizations being based in Chicago, and more. That conversation in particular had a significant impact in how I think about MPC's role in the region and how we should approach our work. I'm grateful for that.
I was thrilled when Tom agreed to come on board as a Senior Fellow and excited every time he came into the office. We're a better organization for the experience. My heart goes out to his family and to the people of Aurora. I'll miss him.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, January 14, 2019 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd, Aurora. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Tom's memory to the Weisner Family Foundation, #164, 2112 W. Galena Blvd. Ste. 8, Aurora, IL 60506, or the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, P.O. Box 2602, Aurora, IL 60507-2602