'Trailblazer' Corinne Wood, Illinois' first female lieutenant governor, dies of cancer

Corinne Wood was a trailblazing politician whose legal background, moderate voice and ability to reach across the aisle helped her become the first female lieutenant governor in Illinois.

But she never lost sight of her suburban roots.

Wood, who served as lieutenant governor alongside Gov. George Ryan from 1999 to 2003, died Tuesday from complications related to her 15 years with metastatic breast cancer, family members said. She was 66.

Wood paved the way for later women to become lieutenant governors, including Evelyn Sanguinetti, who served with Gov. Bruce Rauner, and current Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

In a statement Wednesday, Stratton called Wood "a trailblazer bringing her authentic self to the office and elevating the issue of women's health. She paved the way for women like me to serve in this role."

Wood grew up in Barrington, where she was known as Corky Gieseke while attending Grove Avenue School and graduating from Barrington High School in 1972. Her grandparents farmed land in Arlington Heights, Palatine and Barrington, while running the long-standing Gieseke's Farm Market.

During her first year as lieutenant governor, Wood addressed members of the Barrington Chamber of Commerce, where she reflected on her local roots. At the time, she was recovering from an auto accident in which she suffered a leg injury and her daughter lost her four front teeth.

"I'm excited to be back in my hometown," Wood said at the time. "The values I gained from growing up in a town like Barrington have guided me in public office."

Wood excelled as a student, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois before attending Loyola University School of Law. She went on to practice corporate law for 20 years before running for office, including serving as general counsel to the Illinois commissioner of banks and trusts.

During her first term as state representative, Wood was tapped to share the 1999 Republican gubernatorial ticket with Ryan.

They were elected and served one term together, before Ryan became embroiled in scandal and chose not to seek reelection. Wood ran for the Republican nomination but finished third in the primary to Attorney General James Ryan.

Madeleine Doubek, executive director of CHANGE Illinois and a former political reporter for the Daily Herald, said she remembers Wood as a tough adversary who elevated women's rights to the public consciousness.

"She was an advocate, while in office, for women's health, women's reproductive health and for breast health, in particular," Doubek said, noting that Wood endured her first round of breast cancer in 1997.

Dave Kohn, who served as Wood's director of communications during her term, points to Scott's Law, or the Move Over Law, as one of her legacies. Wood worked to have the law introduced after Lt. Scott Gillin of the Chicago Fire Department was struck and killed while assisting at a crash site on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Scott's Law requires drivers to reduce their speed and change lanes when approaching a police or emergency vehicle pulled over with its flashing lights activated. The law also stiffened penalties for drivers who injure or kill a first responder.

"We spent a lot of time on the road, driving around the state, and she came to have an enormous amount of respect for the Illinois State Police and first responders," Kohn said. "She felt there needed to be enhanced penalties for people who drive carelessly and recklessly around emergency situations."

Doubek described Wood as a longtime champion of fair districting, and in recent years Wood joined the board of directors of CHANGE Illinois, whose mission is to work for ethical and efficient governments, including fair maps and ballots.

"Corinne Wood was committed to improving Illinois long after her tenure in elected office ended," Doubek said. "As a reporter, I covered Wood during her time in office. When I joined CHANGE Illinois, Corinne turned the tables and frequently asked tough, incisive questions about our fight for independent mapping and improved ethics in Illinois. We were better for it and for her contributions."

Wood is survived by her husband, Paul, and their three children, Ashley, Brandon and Courtney. Funeral arrangements were pending Wednesday.

Corinne Wood in 2001
Corinne Wood walks with Boone Creek Water Alliance member Carol O'Donnell in rural Woodstock during a 2002 visit to McHenry County. Wood, a Barrington native who became Illinois' first female lieutenant governor, died Tuesday. She was 66. Daily Herald File Photo, 2002
Corinne Wood talks with Vernon Hills resident Irv Gassner during a 2002 campaign stop in the village. Daily Herald File Photo, 2002
Corinne Wood, left, congratulates then state Rep. Doug Hoeft, Elgin Mayor Ed Schock and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger during ceremonies recognizing Elgin as the 54th Illinois Main Street Community in 2002. Daily Herald File Photo, 2002
Then-Republican nominee for governor, Jim Ryan, and Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood shake hands at the Lake County GOP dinner at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort. Daily Herald File Photo, 2002
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