Colleagues of former Pace leader Joe DiJohn remembered him following his death Saturday as an expert on complicated transportation issues who also had a sense of fun.
DiJohn, 67, of Inverness until recently was director of the Metropolitan Transportation Support Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center. The retired UIC professor headed up numerous studies on transit, freight rail and congestion, including a 2010 report on the effect of free fares for seniors on Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace.
DiJohn also served as executive director at Pace in the 1980s and 1990s during the agency's inception.
"Someone like Joe only comes along once in a century. He has the unique combination of grace and power that has served us astoundingly well," Urban Transportation Center Executive Director Steve Schlickman and UIC professor emeritus Siim Soot wrote in an e-mail.
"Whether it is his establishment of (the support initiative at UIC) or his parrot jokes, he has left an imprint on all of us that will never be forgotten. His legacy will live on with the students that he taught and helped advance their careers."
UIC officials said DiJohn had been battling lung cancer for several months.
DiJohn, who grew up in Morton Grove, worked in a variety of transportation jobs, including as a market analyst at United Airlines and manager of the Regional Transportation Authority's bus division. He helped coordinate the creation of Pace and Metra. DiJohn also served on the board of Glenview Elementary District 34.
"At Pace, DiJohn oversaw the development of the agency as it transitioned from numerous disparate suburban bus companies and systems into a unified agency," Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski said.
DiJohn joined the faculty of UIC in 1998 and became a strong teacher and researcher and helped the university with fundraising, Soot recalled.
"He enjoyed his interaction with students and sharing his knowledge of transportation operations and systems. He was a delight."
Soot visited DiJohn recently and recalled him in good spirits, sharing one of his characteristic parrot jokes. "He asked, 'what do you get when you cross a carrier pigeon with a parrot? Voice mail.'" Soot said. "He had an infectious smile and laugh -- he'd laugh and we'd laugh also."
The Urban Transportation Institute has established a Joe DiJohn scholarship in his memory. For information, call (312) 996-4820.
Visitation will be held Friday at Smith-Cocoran Funeral Home, 185 E. Northwest Hwy., Palatine. Services are at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Holy Family Church, 2515 Palatine Road, Inverness.