I don’t know how many times I told board members and various local politicians that it’s not “vas-KWEZ” with a thick Midwestern twang, it’s correctly pronounced “VAHS – kez.” And the fact that Jesse let them all get away with it drove me absolutely crazy.
It became a running joke between us. C’mon! It’s so Caucasian out here already, can’t we at least get one Hispanic surname right?
Sadly, Jesse Vazquez, who’d served as the Montgomery district Kane County Board member since 2008, died of a heart attack sometime last night at the too-young age of 51. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
But even though I’m saddened by this patently unfair turn of events, unlike so many Kane County politicians, for better or worse, Jesse Vazquez was never boring. Whether it was talking with him on the phone, or sitting next to him in Jack Cunningham’s office, I will greatly miss our conversations because they were never boring either.
Did Jesse’s passion occasionally get the better of him? Sure it did! But take it from someone who’s prone to the very same symptom, it’s far better than leading a life of quiet desperation.
Did Jesse have difficulty with no longer being at the center of board power? Sure he did. But you had to understand that Jesse was an all or nothing kind of guy and that doesn’t always play well on the political scene.
But I’ll never forget the time he bucked his patron and former Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay by fighting tooth and nail against the unconscionable dismantling of the Kane County Health Department in the middle of one of the worst recessions most of us will ever see.
I can’t tell you how proud I was of Jesse for doing the right thing despite the obvious political cost.
Through our many conversations, in which we rarely agreed on anything, I can tell you with certainty that Jesse was incredibly proud of being a Marine. And you could see that service in his bearing. Our debates may have been heated, but he never raised his voice and we always ended up laughing about it in the end.
Jesse’s family was also a great source of pride, but he let you know it in a more subtle and consistent way. It wasn’t bragging, it was satisfaction borne of a job well done. After all, it’s never easy raising two sons and a daughter and it’s even more difficult doing that at a time when you really are in the minority.
I can also tell you with certainty that Jesse adored his granddaughter Rory with a passion even greater than that he brought to the County Board. I know she and his entire family will dearly miss him. I’ll miss him!
But most of all, Jesse cared and you really have to give him credit for stepping up to the political plate and, along with Sylvia Leonburger and Cristina Castro, serving as one of the very first Hispanic Kane County Board members. It’s never easy being a groundbreaker.
Though he left us far too soon, and right now it’s time for us to mourn our loss, we will soon see that Jesse Vazquez’ life is one to be celebrated. Because if the measure of a life is your capacity to truly accomplish something despite your imperfections, then Jesse Vazquez did alright.
Godspeed Jesse! Semper Fi!