Era Eugene “Gene” Callahan, father of Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and former chief of staff to the late Sen. Alan Dixon, passed away early Monday morning at the age of 80.
Callahan was a staple in Illinois politics for more than 40 years. He began his professional career as a reporter, covering crime and politics, and also worked as a columnist.
He first foray into politics was as an assistant press secretary for Illinois Gov. Sam Shapiro, and he then went on to serve as press secretary for Lt. Gov. Paul Simon and worked as Simon’s chief of staff in the U.S. Senate. It was when he was working for Simon that Callahan developed a close friendship with Richard J. Durbin, the current Illinois senator and Senate majority whip.
“I never made an important decision in my political life without calling Gene,” Durbin said in a statement. “He was totally honest, painfully candid, and completely loyal. You knew that if the world turned on you, Gene would be the last person standing by your side.” Callahan began working for Dixon when the latter was the Illinois treasurer, and Callahan followed Dixon to the Senate in 1981, where he served as Dixon’s top aide. Dixon passed away in early July .
After Dixon lost his 1992 re-election bid, Callahan became a lobbyist for Major League Baseball and he later served on the board of trustees for Southern Illinois University, where his late son, Dan, coached baseball.
Bustos told The State-Journal Register that her father passed away around 3:30 a.m., potentially from a heart attack.
Bustos’ father played a large role in sparking her interest in politics at a young age.
“Sitting around our kitchen table from a very early age on, we talked politics and we talked policy,” Bustos told CQ Roll Call in July. “Never once can I ever remember my dad saying, ‘Go away, this is an adult conversation.’ I could sit around and listen to these guys as long as I wanted to listen to them.”
Bustos wrote a touching obituary for her father, which she titled “An Illinois Icon.”
“He remained active politically throughout his lifetime, although behind the scenes as adviser to many,” wrote Bustos, who also said that their family was together on Sunday at a fundraiser for her campaign at Norb Andy’s Tavern in Springfield. The tavern was also where Callahan proposed to Ann, his wife of nearly 60 years.
The last line of Callahan’s obituary reads, “In lieu of flowers, please vote on November 4th.”