Among his many other qualities, Lawrence Hansen was known for his gentle demeanor and finely honed sense of humor. But there was no fiercer advocate for government responsibility and ethics.
Hansen, vice president of the Joyce Foundation in Chicago and chairman of the Illinois Issues Advisory Board, died of cancer November 15 at his home in River Forest. He was 69.
“Larry was a good, optimistic and kind person. He was a great colleague with a sense of humor and a personal and professional focus on ensuring good and open and fair government, and that was his life’s work. He’s made a huge impact at the foundation,’’ said Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation.
Hansen joined The Joyce Foundation in 1994. The philanthropic organization has assets of approximately $950 million and makes grants to nonprofit groups that are located in or have programs that are important to the quality of life in the Midwest. Its program areas are education, employment, environment, culture, gun violence prevention and campaign finance reform. He launched the foundation’s Money and Politics program in 1994.
Hansen focused most recently on reforming redistricting, the process by which state legislatures redraw political boundaries after each U.S. census. But he saw redistricting reform as just one piece of a broader reform agenda that also included campaign financing, judicial elections, government transparency and accountability and other areas vital to a well-functioning democracy.
“With Larry you had a partner. To conceptualize, to brainstorm — a sounding board,” said Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “He was a such a mentor that when he could make the case for investing foundation dollars, you also got this champion who was always excited about the work an organization might do and would always take the time to talk about strategies for moving the ball forward.”
Before joining the Joyce Foundation, Hansen was a research professor at George Washington University’s National Center for Communication Studies. He directed the university’s Democracy Agenda Project, a series of forums that asked people in 19 Midwestern cities how they would reform the political system. He was the catalyst behind the Midwest Democracy Network, a consortium of organizations with related issues such as campaign reform, open government and judicial independence. Canary said. “He’s just been this great catalyst and bridge builder in terms of bringing people together.
“I don’t want people to lose sight of how much he gave of himself,” Canary said.
Illinois Issues also was a beneficiary of Hansen’s efforts. “Larry was a good friend to the magazine and a mentor to me,’’ said Executive Editor Dana Heupel. “We will greatly miss his humor, his wisdom and his sage advice.’’
"He was an outstanding chair of the advisory board," said Mike Lawrence, who will succeed Hansen as chairman. "He had great enthusiasm for the mission of the magazine. He was visionary and we will miss him greatly.
"On a personal note," Lawrence said, "I've known Larry for 40 years — for more than 40 years. I valued his friendship and his commitment to public service. He never lost his enthusiasm for better government. He was an inspiration to those of us who worked with him on projects such as campaign finance reform."
Hansen also had been a consultant to numerous public policy organizations and foundations, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Throughout his career, Hansen served on the governing boards of a number of civic and community organizations, including the University YMCA at the University of Illinois and the Donors Forum, He also was a member of the National Council for Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Chicago Historical Society.
From 1983-1989, Hansen was senior fellow and vice president for public programs at the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies in Washington D.C, which he helped to create. He also served in 1982-83 as a special assistant and political adviser to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, prior to Mondale’s announcement of his campaign for president. From 1974-1981, Hansen served as special assistant and administrative assistant to former U.S. Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III.
“We traveled the campaign trail together all over this country," Mondale said in a news release issued by the Joyce Foundation. "We talked about everything. Larry was gifted, funny, wise and competitive. He also liked to order, on a daily basis, an adequate supply of sweet rolls,” Mondale said. “He had this gift of calming down matters that had gotten out of control. Everybody liked him. Larry was a blessing to all of us who loved people and politics. Joan and I send our prayers for the loss of this extraordinarily gifted and kind man.”
“Larry’s life was devoted to public service,” said Stevenson. “For Larry, public service was more than a citizen’s duty. It was also an intellectual challenge and occupation. Larry had a wry sense of humor, a capacious memory and a talent for articulation that made good use of his political experience for the amusement and edification of his many friends. He’ll be missed by his friends – and by a country that misses his kind.”
In the early 1970s, he was a top aide to Illinois state schools Superintendent Michael J. Bakalis. Hansen and Bakalis wrote a book together on school reform. A Strategy for Excellence: Reaching for New Standards in Education, which was published in 1974. He also was the author of numerous other writings and publications.
“Larry Hansen was one of those rare people who took issues, politics and history seriously and actually did something concrete to make things better," Bakalis said in the Joyce news release. "But he also kept everything in perspective with his great sense of humor. His was a life of purpose and he made a difference.”He was a delegate to the Peace Corps Founding and Organizing Conference in 1961 and in 1962 he worked with American and Peruvian student leaders in constructing the first modern sanitation facilities in two barrios of Lima.
Hansen, who grew up in Elgin, was a distinguished graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he was Student Senate president, receiving bachelor’s degrees in political science and history in 1963. He also attended the University of Illinois College of Law and, as a Rotary Fellow, Heidelberg University in Germany. He also was an Illinois legislative intern and is a member of the Samuel K. Gove Illinois Legislative Internship Hall of Fame sponsored by Illinois Issues. He joined the Illinois Issues Advisory Board in 2003 and was elected its chairman in 2007.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret "Marge"; his mother, Jeanne Hansen; sisters Janis (David) Duewel and Candace; brother Lance (Sue); brother- and sister-in-law John and Patricia Brown; and many nieces and nephews.
Memorials may be sent to: the University YMCA at the University of Illinois, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign, IL 61820, or to Illinois Issues, HRB 10, University of Illinois Springfield, One University Plaza, Springfield, IL 62703-5407.
Illinois Issues, November 2010