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Monday, February 22, 2010

In loving memory of Judy Reiss

Please read the favorite memories of Judy Reiss posted by our Youth Services department in their wonderful blog, Kidding Around.

For all the wonders modern technology brings to our days, there are times when there is no substitute for "being there." I am away from the Library at this time, participating in a technology/leadership training institute in Springfield, Illinois. I'm typically homesick while traveling anyway, but today unusually so - yesterday, February 22, 2010, everyone at DPPL learned of the unexpected and sudden passing of Judy Reiss, a much-loved member of our Youth Services department for 12 years.

I have dozens of pictures and videos of Judy - of course, they are all on my work computer which I cannot get into right now. I'm happy to share a few thoughts and the photos I happen to have saved on my personal laptop. I hope my coworkers will write thoughts and remembrances here, too.

The loss came so quickly and I know, even from a distance, that my colleagues must be struggling to get through the work week under the burden of the sadness. I also know "Miss Judy" was a friend and an inspiration to many, many children in Des Plaines. In the photo above, she's charming some kids with her thoughtful reading of a story. I've watched her fearlessly challenge a roomful of 10 year old boys, armed with Legos of every shape and size, and seen her cheer on their work and creativity.

One thing I truly loved about Judy: she was very happy and willing to be silly when the occasion called for it, as you can see in this "Clowning Around" photo with Judy's coworker Elizabeth Bialobrzewski. Whether it was telling jokes in clown make-up to entertain kids, or acting like a lovesick teenager in our "Mr. Totebag" video, Judy brought a sense of joy to work every day.

Judy lived with a gentleness of spirit and that rarest of qualities - pure and simple kindness. I never saw her lose her temper - well, maybe once, during baseball season. I'll get to that in a moment. But I've sat through lengthy meetings with her, in the midst of heated discussions, and she remained the picture of calm. It doesn't surprise me at all that her reading voice could calm a gaggle of antsy kids, it had much the same effect on all of her "grown-up" colleagues. If you are ever missing Judy's voice and want to hear it again, she is the narrator of our "It's Easy Being Green" YouTube video. She did a wonderful job on this project and I really enjoyed getting to know her during our hours of working on the script and voiceover.

In fact, our DPPL Green Team was planning a new video and we were certainly hoping Judy would take part. Judy was one of the first to volunteer for the Green Team and came to every meeting full of great ideas and suggestions. You can see Judy's "Go Green!" booklist for kids here on our Web site. She was so proud of her daughter Kelly, who has made quite a name for herself online as "The Vegetarian Librarian" and as a staff person at the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Yep, Kelly is a librarian, and thank you to my colleague Sara McLaughlin for posting in the comments here that Judy's son Kevin is also a librarian! I agree wholeheartedly with Sara's comment that Judy has left all of us a wonderful legacy and our profession is the better for her dedication and enthusiasm and the nurturing she provided to her children that led them to library work.

Here she is with Bob Blanchard and myself when we unveiled the plastic bag recycling in our atrium.
Besides "greenness" and library work, Judy and I shared one other passion, a love for those blue-clad Northsiders, those heartbreaking boys of summer we call the Chicago Cubs. I knew I had found a real friend at work as Judy rejoiced and then commiserated with me in that painful autumn of 2008, when the Cubs got so far, but not far enough. But while I was clenching my fists and railing against the gods of sport, Judy did what she always did: she kept smiling and stayed hopeful, positive, encouraging. I think if she could have brought the Cubs into the Storytime Room with some Legos, she might have worked magic. It is hard for me to imagine today that she, as Cub fan Steve Goodman once put it, has "season tickets to watch the Angels now." I think she'll find a way to barter them for an angel's-eye view of Wrigley

Please, coworkers, family, friends of Judy, feel free to add your comments here. Judy, your absence leaves an unfillable space in our library & in our hearts but your gentle spirit will live on in memories and all the good works you did for us and our community.

Judy's obituary is available in the Chicago Tribune.


  1. I was very saddened to hear of Judy’s passing.
    To her family , I would like them to know that she was a very nice person who I never heard complain about anything.


  2. One of my favorite Judy memories is the frigid cold December day in 2005 when Holly, Judy and I went over to Lake Opeka to decorate the DPPL tree with mitten ornaments that Judy had helped prepare. It was one of those single digit days with wind chills in the minus digits and we stood by that freezing cold lake and laughed like crazy as we tied those ornaments to the tree. Judy was always volunteering, always sweet and smiling, and always ready to help out. I will really miss her.

  3. Judy's son, Kevin, is also a librarian! I've always had the impression that it was Judy's love of libraries that influenced her children's choice of careers. What a wonderful legacy she leaves...

  4. I had the pleasure of working with Judy many years ago and more recently, I would see her when I brought my children into the library. We were always greeted with a warm smile from her. We will so miss seeing her. She was a lovely person and she will live on in our memories.

  5. Judy was that special type of person who did not criticize and did not complain, but who, instead, listened and shared her hope for a better tomorrow. I wish I could have told her how much I appreciated her gentleness and kindness. I hope we can create a special memorial in her honor, one that can remind us all of how to live her way, the path of caring and kindness. Pam

  6. I will miss Judy's kindness, helpfulness, can-do spirit, and conversation. A lovely, lovely person and a gifted librarian.


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