Justice speaks on care for mentally disabled

By Gus Bode

Anne Burke decided to study law so she could speak for those who need a voice. More than 20 years later, she is up for reelection for her second term as an Illinois Supreme Court Justice.

Burke spoke Wednesday in Ballroom D of the Student Center to a crowd of more than 100. The focus was the past, present and future of the mentally disabled population and childcare services.

Once a physical education teacher for mentally disabled children, Burke is credited with founding the Chicago Special Olympics in 1968. This event grew to become the International Special Olympics, which is now operating in more than 160 countries.

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“The twists and the curves of my life have carried me far from the days as a physical education teacher in the Chicago Park District,” Burke said. “It has been a world transforming experience.”

Burke began her law career late in life, graduating from law school at the age of 40. She said it was her husbands’ encouragement that brought her to practice law.

“He told me that I had a lot to offer as an advocate for children,” Burke said.

Her judicial career began in 1987 when she was appointed the first woman justice of the Illinois Court of Claims. Later appointed special counsel for Child Welfare Services, Burke led an effort to reshape and improve the Illinois juvenile justice system.

“I think it is fair to say that everything I have accomplished since my days in private practice has flowed from this sense of working for fairness, and children who are at risk,” Burke said.

Burke encouraged all in attendance to get involved in programs that benefit children, especially the needs of children in foster care.

“Every foster child who has been successful has had someone to mentor them,” she said.

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Closing her speech, Burke presented a challenge to all to help shape the future care for mentally disabled adults.

“Let us make the world safe for the aging mentally disabled population,” she said.

Burke became the third woman on the Illinois Supreme Court in July 2006. She is up for re-election in February of 2008.

“Work like this is never finished,” Burke said. “There is always more to do.”

Burke’s lecture was part of the Jeanne Hurley Simon lecture series, which honors Paul Simon’s first wife who died in February 2000.

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]

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