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|Disability Rights Activist, Galesburg Native, Former WGIL Owner Lester Pritchard Dies
|Nationally acclaimed disabilities self-advocate, visionary and Chairman of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities Lester Pritchard passed away Monday in Urbana.
Pritchard was known nationwide for pushing governments to fund community-based services for people with disabilities that would allow them to live independently rather than in large institutions.
As a Governor-appointed official and one of the nation's most foremost, lauded disability equality leaders, Pritchard saw the disability rights movement as a modern civil rights battle, a vision that propelled him to found the Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois to advance rights and independence for people with disabilities to lead lives with choice.
As a self-advocate and champion of people with disabilities, Lester spent almost as much time rallying legislators in Springfield for a better system and increased opportunities for people with disabilities as he did in his hometown Urbana.
Pritchard advocated reforming systems to better integrate community services by moving away from the institution-based model and was instrumental in closing Howe Developmental Center, one of Illinois' nine state-run institutions, and keeping the Lincoln Developmental Center closed. Until the day he died, Lester advocated tirelessly for people with disabilities to have access to better, more inclusive living conditions.
Former Illinois Governor George Ryan appointed Pritchard to the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities in 1999, and in 2004, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich promoted him to Chairman of the Council. As Chairman, Lester spearheaded research studies and trail blazed a path in which the Council took a more central role in the development of progressive services for people with developmental disabilities.
In 2008, Pritchard traveled to New York City to accept the American Bar Association's Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights. He is survived by his wife Barbara and several siblings.
Pritchard is a former co-owner of radio stations WGIL-AM 1400 and WAAG-FM 94.9, and is also a former president and board member of Galesburg Printing and Publishing Company, the one-time parent company of the Galesburg Register-Mail.
(Information and Photo provided through Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, WGIL News contributed to this report.)
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