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Published on Nov 5, 2009
Lester Pritchard, Chairman of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, passed away peacefully on Monday, October 12, 2009.
Lester spent almost as much time rallying legislators in Springfield for a better system and increased opportunities for people with disabilities and as he did in his hometown Urbana. He was instrumental in closing Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park, advocating tirelessly for years to close the beleaguered institution so residents could have access to better, more inclusive living conditions. He also played a key role in keeping the Lincoln Developmental Center closed. Pritchard devoted the past 35+ years advocating for independence, full inclusion, equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities.
Lesters involvement in disability issues began on the day he was born and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a point from which he experienced firsthand the struggle for equality, dignity and access. A well-traveled and charismatic public speaker, Lester saw Illinois disability rights movement as a modern civil rights battle, a vision that propelled him to create the Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois to advance rights and independence for people with disabilities to lead lives with choice. Of the countless advocacy efforts he led and thousands of petitions he organized, each was committed to expanding access to community living options and empowering people with disabilities.
Former Governor George Ryan appointed Lester to the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities in 1999 and in 2004, then-Governor Blagojevich appointed him Chairman of the Council. As Chairman, Lester spearheaded research studies and blazed a path in which the Council took a more central role in the development of progressive services for people with developmental disabilities. Lester was awarded the prestigious Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights by the American Bar Association in 2008.
A true visionary and native of Galesburg, Pritchard saw a society that fully accepted and included people with disabilities and he worked every day of his life to make that vision a reality. He never shied away from adversity. Over a lifetime of advocacy, he empowered hundreds of people with disabilities to map out their goals, become contributing members of society and find fulfillment in life.