Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, ‘Big Jim,’ dies at 84

Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, known as "Big Jim" during a long career that eventually made him the state’s longest-serving chief executive, has died. He was 84.

Thompson died shortly after 8 p.m. Friday at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, his wife, Jayne, told the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. The Tribune, citing a police report, reported Thompson had been recovering there for several weeks after suffering heart problems.

"It was very sudden," Jayne Thompson told the Tribune. "I was told that his heart simply stopped."

Thompson, a Republican from Chicago, was first elected in 1976 and eventually served four terms before leaving office in 1991. A moderate, he managed the state through recession years in the 1980s. He also helped put together a plan to help the Chicago White Sox get a new stadium to head off a potential move out of state.

Widely respected across the state, Thompson was honored in 1993 when the state government building in downtown Chicago was named after him.

"As the longest-serving governor in Illinois history, ‘Big Jim’ was known to treat people he encountered with kindness and decency," Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. "Jim dedicated himself to building positive change for Illinois, and he set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud. He will be remembered and revered as one of the titans in the history of state government."

"He was a great guy, no question about that," said Republican former Gov. George Ryan. "He did a lot of good things for Illinois."

Before becoming governor, Thompson was an assistant attorney general and a U.S. attorney, making a name for himself with anti-corruption cases that included prosecuting former Gov. Otto Kerner Jr.