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Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello

Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello

Reflections on Twenty-Two Years in the Illinois Senate

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Philip J. Rock, with Ed Wojcicki


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
18 illustrations


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About the Book

A loyal partisan and highly principled public official whose career overlapped with those of many legends of Illinois politics-including Mayor Richard J. Daley, Governor James Thompson, and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan-Democrat Philip J. Rock served twenty-two years in the Illinois Senate. Fourteen of those years were spent as senate president, the longest tenure anyone has served in that position. This nuanced political biography, which draws on dozens of interviews conducted by Ed Wojcicki to present the longtime senate president's story in his own words, is also a rare insider's perspective on Illinois politics in the last three decades of the twentieth century. 

A native of Chicago's West Side, Rock became one of the most influential politicians in Illinois during the 1970s and 1980s. As a senator in the 1970s and senate president from 1979 to 1993, he sponsored historic legislation to assist abused and neglected children and victims of domestic violence, ushered the state through difficult income tax increases and economic development decisions, shepherded an unruly and fragmented Democratic senate caucus, and always was fair to his Republican counterparts. Covering in great detail a critical period in Illinois political history for the first time, Rock explains how making life better for others drove his decisions in office, while also espousing the seven principles he advocates for effective leadership and providing context for how he applied those principles to the legislative battles of the era. 

Unlike many Illinois politicians, Rock, a former seminarian, was known for having a greater interest in issues than in partisan politics. Considered a true statesman, he also was known as a skilled orator who could silence a busy floor of legislators with his commentary on important issues and as a devoted public servant who handled tens of thousands of bills and sponsored nearly five hundred of them himself. 

Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello, which takes its title from the volume of calls and visits to elected officials from constituents in need of help, perfectly captures Rock's profound reverence for the institutions of government, his respect for other government offices, and his reputation as a problem solver who, despite his ardent Democratic beliefs, disavowed political self-preservation to cross party lines and make government work for the people. Taking readers through his legislative successes, bipartisan efforts, and political defeats-including a heartbreaking loss in the U.S. Senate primary to Paul Simon in 1984-Rock passionately articulates his belief that government's primary role is to help people, offering an antidote to the current political climate with the simple legislative advice, "Just try to be fair, give everyone a chance, and everything else comes after that."


Philip J. Rock (1937–2016) served fourteen years as the Illinois Senate president, longer than anyone in state history. Born a Catholic, a Democrat, and a Cubs fan, he demonstrated how a public official can be both a partisan politician and a principled leader striving to make government better serve its constituents. Widely acclaimed “for trying to do the right thing” and being fair to Republicans and Democrats alike, he interacted regularly with several giants in Illinois history, including Governor James R. Thompson, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, and Chicago mayors Richard J. Daley, Harold Washington, and Richard M. Daley, which gave him a unique insider’s perspective on politics in both Illinois and Chicago. Many say he was the greatest statesman in Illinois politics in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
In his more than twenty-five years as a journalist, Ed Wojcicki gained extensive experience in reporting on local and state government in Illinois. For ten years he was the publisher of Illinois Issues magazine at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he also oversaw the publication of numerous books about Illinois government. A native of St. Louis, he is the author of A Crisis of Hope in the Modern World and a contributing author to four other books. He lives in Springfield, Illinois.



“There is wit and wisdom in this story. And the reader is presented with the remarkable making of a remarkable man. Phil Rock is too self-effacing for such praise, but the pages of Nobody Calls Just to say Hello embodies that formula of character that make Phil’s years in the Illinois Senate a powerful exercise in human success. His stories brim with insight and sometimes never-before-told history.”—Alderman Edward M. Burke

“Phil Rock is a compassionate leader with guts, smarts, and savvy who knows when to hold them and when to fold them. Now you can see how and why he enriched public service in Illinois in this marvelous new political biography—almost a political thriller!”—Jim Thompson, governor of Illinois from 1977 to 1991

 “Phil Rock has always combined high degrees of integrity and political savvy.  In this fascinating book, Phil takes the reader inside the process of hammering out major public policies in Illinois during the 1970s through 1990s, providing lessons about both politics and life.”—James D. Nowlan, coauthor of Illinois Politics: A Citizen’s Guide

“Rock’s time in the Senate is proof that a legislative leader can adopt a problem-solving outlook, rather than exclusively pursue partisan advantage, and still be enormously successful. That outlook is so lacking in current leaders that readers need to be reminded that there were times when self-promotion and self-preservation were not the primary motives driving the actions of legislative leaders. This work will make an invaluable contribution to understanding politics in Illinois, and is extremely important for those interested in understanding what real political leadership is all about.”—Paul Kleppner, author of Chicago Divided: The Making of a Black Mayor

“Rock provides plenty of detail about his twenty-two years in the Senate, his rise in the Cook County and Illinois Democratic Party organizations and his public service philosophy. . . . Sprinkled throughout are enough anecdotes to make readers reminisce over the antics of such colorful senators as John Knuppel of Petersburg, Sam Vadalabene of Edwardsville, and Charles Chew of Chicago. Whether it was Knuppel voting for Winnie the Pooh during the 186-ballot contest for Senate president in 1977, feisty Vadalabene landing a right jab to a Republican senator in 1981, or Chew spouting in 1976 that passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would mean the sexes would have to share bathrooms, Rock reminds us that sometimes politics is more entertaining than late-night comedians can script. . . . Words that all can appreciate for their eloquence appear in a few excerpts from Rock’s floor speeches. Those speeches remind readers why the Senate chamber would quiet when he rose to speak.”Illinois Times
“It would do us well to heed some of Rock’s words from his book. . . . [It] is worth a read if you’re interested in how things really get done in Springfield, or at least how they were done.”Rockford Register Star
“Particularly for people who are familiar with the players in state government, this book is fun and enlightening.”State Journal-Register