Gary LaPaille, former state Democratic chair, state senator and Madigan chief of staff, dies at 68

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At the 1984 Springfield Gridiron show, a long-gone tradition that saw legislative correspondents performing skits mocking the state’s public officials, a pair of reporters sang a duet to a rewritten version of the Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand hit, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”

The song poked fun at the highly competitive legislative fights waged between Gary LaPaille, the chief of staff to then-Democratic House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, and Christine Freveletti, the chief of staff to then-House Republican leader Lee Daniels.

At the end of the song, LaPaille picked up the floral centerpiece from his table at the Springfield hotel ballroom and presented it to Freveletti to raucous laughter and applause from hundreds of Illinois’ top politicians attending the charity event.

A few years later, LaPaille and Freveletti started dating. They eventually got married, had children, left Illinois and launched careers that took them around the world from a base of Washington, D.C.

Gary LaPaille, an extrovert who excelled at networking, was Madigan’s first chief of staff and also served as an Illinois state senator and chair of the state Democratic Party before becoming a lobbyist. He was 68 when he died Dec. 1 of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, his wife said.

In a comment posted Oct. 11 on CaringBridge.org website set up for LaPaille, Madigan said: “I am very proud of you today, as always. You have enjoyed great personal and professional accomplishments. You and Chris have raised three wonderful and outstanding children. Love, Mike,”

Madigan, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, resigned his post as House speaker and the legislative seat he held for 50 years in early 2021 after being implicated in a scandal in which Commonwealth Edison agreed to pay a $200 million fine for illegally seeking to gain Madigan’s favor to benefit utility legislation.

Born in Chicago, LaPaille worked as a teenager in the 13th Ward office as a clerk for Madigan, who remains the ward’s committeeman. He graduated from Loyola University with a degree in business and became Madigan’s chief of staff in 1983, a key gate-keeping role as Democrats assumed the House majority that year.

In 1990, Madigan backed LaPaille for Illinois Democratic chairman, and he went on to hold the post for two, four-year terms. He also represented Madigan’s House district in the state Senate for two years during which the chamber was under Republican control, choosing not to seek reelection in 1994. His relationship with Madigan had become acrimonious, though the two eventually mended their differences.

During his tenure as state party chairman, LaPaille played a major role in diversifying party leadership. Also a vice chair in the Democratic National Committee, LaPaille was influential in bringing the 1996 Democratic National Convention to Chicago for the renomination of President Bill Clinton.

Four years later, Al Gore, who had become the Democratic presidential nominee, asked LaPaille to serve as DNC national chairman, but he turned down the offer to launch his career as a lobbyist.

LaPaille was president of mCapitol Management for several years and was involved in construction projects worldwide. In 2016, he was a senior adviser to Dentons’ U.S. law firm.

Gary and Christine LaPaille quietly began their courtship during a National Conference of State Legislatures convention in Seattle in the mid-1980s. They took a car ferry on a side trip to Vancouver. When the ferry suddenly stalled, several Illinois officials who were also on the boat began to get out of their cars.

“It was kind of like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s all these (Illinois) people on the ferry,’ and we’re trying to make sure nobody would see us in the car,” she said.

Afterward, when LaPaille would call her in the House GOP offices from his Democratic speaker’s office, her assistant would say, “‘Mr. Ferry’s on the phone,’ ” said Christine LaPaille, who embarked on a public relations career.

The two married in 1988.

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“We were total opposites. He was the quintessential extrovert. He loved going out. He loved being with people. He loved all that. I’m totally introverted. But we had a great life,” Christine LaPaille said.

“We have great kids. We had a lot of fun. I mean, that’s one of the last things I said to him. I just thanked him. We just had a ball,” she said.

In addition to his wife, Gary LaPaille is survived by his mother, Dolores LaPaille; two sons, Joseph and Samuel; and a daughter, Grace.

A wake is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home, 7557 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Maryland. A Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, 9200 Kentsdale Drive, Potomac, Maryland.

A celebration of life ceremony is planned for Chicago sometime after the New Year.

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December 6, 2022 at 12:03PM

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