- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Philip J. Rock, the stoic and resolute face of the Illinois Senate for more than a decade, died Friday. He was 78.

Senate president from 1979 to 1993, Rock was acclaimed as a brilliant statesman and a fair-minded gavel-wielder in an age when partisanship carried less vitriol. His death was confirmed in a family statement released by Sen. Don Harmon, who, like Rock, is an Oak Park Democrat.

“He was somebody who you knew wanted to get things done, he wasn’t going to play games with you,” said former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who met Rock as a Senate staffer in 1971 and became governor two years before Rock’s exit. “He might not even like who he was working with, but he understood the responsibility to get things done.”

Elected in 1970, Rock led the upper chamber during economic turmoil and helped negotiate two income-tax increases with Republican governors. His gravitas matched that of an upstart House speaker, Chicago Democrat Michael Madigan, who took his post in 1983 and remains at the helm.

Madigan said in a statement that Rock’s “accomplishments, especially in the area of bettering the lives of children, are legion.”

“The respect and the treatment of the two parties was very fair,” said former Sen. Laura Kent Donahue, a Quincy Republican who joined the Senate in 1981. “We worked together on the floor, we worked together in committee, and we played together afterward.”

Donahue said a night at a nearby watering hole didn’t end until Rock sang “Danny Boy.” ”I get choked up thinking about it now,” she said.

Born in Chicago in 1937, Rock received a law degree from Loyola University in 1964, the year he married the former Sheila Graber, who survives him. They had four children.

Just 33 upon election to the Senate, Rock was an assistant majority leader by 1975 and heir apparent to the president’s chair when it became vacant two years later.

But fellow Democratic Sen. Thomas Hynes wanted to be president. In the ensuing, six-week melee in which a phalanx of mostly downstate legislators dubbed the “Crazy 8” forced 186 ballots while demanding a bigger share of Senate responsibility, Rock played the peacemaker. Former Sen. Kenneth Buzbee, a Crazy 8 Democrat from Carbondale, said rather than challenge Hynes, Rock set aside his personal ambition and agreed to broker a deal that would make Hynes president.

“He was a guy who thought we were there to make things work,” Buzbee said.

Hynes’ departure opened the door for Rock in 1979.

His sense of fair play rankled his caucus, said former Sen. Emil Jones Jr., who succeeded Rock as Democratic leader and served as president from 2003 to 2009. “That’s the way he was, which could sometimes cause the caucus to grumble. They wanted him to be hard-lined.”

Rock failed to gain traction in a bid for U.S. Senate in 1984, a primary won by eventual U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. The Democrats lost control of the state Senate in 1992 and Rock retired. He was appointed as chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education in 1999.

Another Crazy 8 member, Terry Bruce of Olney, said Rock’s varied expertise influenced Illinois beyond the staid Senate dais with his chapter-and-verse familiarity with the way public schools are funded and his understanding of varied geographical and ideological differences in the Prairie State.

Bruce, who went on to serve four terms in Congress, said, “He really was a guy that changed what happened in the state of Illinois.”

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Associated Press writers Ivan Moreno and Ashley Lisenby contributed.

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Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor .

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