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In Memoriam: Laurence Msall '84

Laurence Msall

Laurence Msall, a graduate and trustee of Knox College, and a highly regarded expert on finance and public policy in Illinois, passed away on Saturday, February 4, 2023. Msall died unexpectedly at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he had recently undergone heart surgery. He was 61.

A 1984 Knox graduate and member of the Board of Trustees of the College since 2017, Msall served for the past two decades as President of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan public policy research organization that studies the effectiveness, financial sustainability, and transparency of state and local governments in Illinois.

Among those remembering Msall was Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, who noted Msall's "many years of dedication and service to the best interests of the people of Illinois... As President of the Civic Federation, Laurence played a key role in advancing the fiscal discourse in Illinois. He served our state proudly under Governors Ryan and Thompson and will be remembered for his advocacy in confronting complex policy challenges."

Msall received his bachelor's degree in anthropology and sociology from Knox in 1984. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and captain of the cross country team. He received his law degree in 1992 from Loyola University School of Law. 

Msall's service as a Knox trustee included the 2020-21 Presidential Search Committee that recommended the hiring of Knox President C. Andrew McGadney. 

"As a member of the Presidential Search Committee, Laurence was one of the first trustees of the College that I initially engaged with," McGadney said in a message to the Knox campus community. 

"Over the past 19 months I have grown to count on Laurence as a trusted advisor, always quick with a text or phone call to help his alma mater and our entire leadership team," McGadney said. "Since arriving at Knox I have encountered few people with more passion for Knox, our great state of Illinois and for improving the lives of others. Laurence will be missed but never forgotten.”

Tony Etz, chair of the Knox College Board of Trustees, remembers Msall as a prominent figure in the Knox community. "Laurence was one of my favorite people. Funny, smart, calm, pragmatic. Always helpful and always encouraging. And with a deep love for our college. He was a proud graduate of Knox and a proud member of our board,” Etz said.

Prior to joining the Civic Federation in 2002, Msall was an aide and economic development advisor to Illinois governors James Thompson and George Ryan, and vice president of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Msall is survived by his wife, Nicola Hill-Cordell, a 1985 Knox graduate, and children Lucy, Camille, Matilda, Alex, Samantha, Thomas, Tess and Oscar.

A complete obituary is published by Salerno's Galewood Chapel. Visitation was set for Tuesday, February 7 in Chicago, with a funeral mass on Wednesday, February 8. Memorials may be made to L'Arche Chicago, an organization that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Reactions on the passing of Laurence Msall:

Illinois Comptroller Susan Mendoza: [Msall was] "a giant in Illinois for his knowledge of finances... a crucial voice advocating for honest budgeting... an important bridge between the business community and government, holding the city, state, county and other units of government accountable by analyzing their budgets."

Illinois State Senator Don Harmon, also a Knox graduate and member of the Knox Board of Trustees: "Laurence Msall was an intellectual giant of steadfast character and consistency. Someone who dedicated his life to improving the city and the state he cared so much about. I’ve known Lawrence since grade school. He was a friend, mentor and sounding board for many issues and decisions. I will always remember his voice, vision and unparalleled integrity. My heart goes out to his family and friends."

Civic Federation: "Laurence’s contributions to the Civic Federation were immeasurable and his sudden passing comes as a devastating blow to members of the Civic Federation family. While Laurence was the Civic Federation to so many in the community, his real legacy was in helping to make the Civic Federation the indispensable voice for fiscal responsibility throughout the state of Illinois and that mission will go on through the outstanding staff that Laurence developed."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: "Through his invaluable work at the Civic Federation, Laurence illuminated various pathways toward fiscal stability, and the City's and State's recent financial turnarounds are undoubtedly a result of his advocacy, incredible intellect, and guidance. Above all else, he was a kind, generous and empathetic man who was always willing to roll up his sleeves to help. Laurence's contributions to the betterment of our city cannot be measured. He always asked how he could help and provided me with his unvarnished and helpful counsel... One of Chicago's great civic leaders."

Jim Nowlan, former state legislator and agency director: “Laurence and the Civic Federation have always looked at the budget numbers for Illinois and Chicago with a focus on public service, rather than shaped by ideology or partisan politics. Given our state’s always shaky finances, that is an under-appreciated contribution.”

Politico: "Msall was beloved and feared on both sides of the aisle for his straight talk on numbers... He had a special affinity for explaining complicated budget issues."

Chicago Tribune: "Chicago has lost a noble fighter for fiscal responsibility... Over more than two decades as leader of the Civic Federation, critiquing budgets, pensions, debt issues and policy proposals, Msall set the standard for analysis and forecasting. And he did so with such an unwavering sense of conviction, fairness and insight that he earned a place of influence and honor in Chicago’s civic conversation."

Crain's Chicago Business: "Laurence Msall, the Civic Federation president and fiscal watchdog, was quoted early and often when government bodies issued a budget plan or pension forecast of questionable construction."

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs: “I very much enjoyed my relationship with Laurence over the last several years. He was always kind to me and we had candid conversations about the state’s finances. Even though we did not always see solutions the same way, we kept talking and could find ways to work together. I valued his critical thinking skills and his courage in tackling tough issues.”

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Printed on Monday, May 20, 2024