Former Peoria Mayor Jim Maloof passes away

By Tom McIntyre

January 20, 2013 Updated Jan 21, 2013 at 10:41 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill.-- Former Peoria Mayor Jim Maloof has died at the age of 93.

Jim Maloof was born in October 18 of 1918, and if he was not born singing, that came pretty soon afterwards, he said.

Jim Maloof was the third son of Nimer and Sarah Maloof, who had immigrated separately from Lebanon, met in New York, married and moved to Peoria.

There was already a strong Lebanese community here, the ITOO Society, founded by the LaHood's and Couri's and other immigrant families.

He was named Jameel Maloof.

By the time he graduated from Spaulding Institute in 1937, he was James Aloysius Maloof, working for the family dry cleaning business.

A couple of years later, he met 16-year-old Trudy Burson. She was, he said, the best dancer in Peoria. They were married in 1941, had their first son Michael in 1942, and by 1943, Jim Maloof was drafted into the Army Air Corps.

Out of the service, three years later, he took over the family dry cleaning business, expanding it and getting involved.

In 1957, everything changed.

He and other Lebanese-American leaders met in Chicago with entertainer Danny Thomas.

Thomas had vowed, if successful, he would build a shrine to St. Jude. Now successful, he said he would build a children's clinic.

That commitment translated into teen marches in Peoria raising money door-to-door.

In 1962, St. Jude opened in Memphis. True to his word, the hospital was paid for. Jim Maloof was there.

By 1972, Maloof had become the national Executive Vice President of St. Jude, and the first affiliated clinic in the country had opened in Peoria, because Danny Thomas was so impressed by the local commitment to St. Jude.

In 1978, the St. Jude telethons began on WEEK-TV, at first, just talk and appeals for money.

By 1985, Jim Maloof was in the real estate business and troubled by a downturn in the local economy. Caterpillar had cut jobs. Unemployment was at 17 percent.

He announced he was running for Mayor. He came in second of the three candidates, and won the run-off election. He was 65 years old when he was sworn in. He won the next election, and the one after that.

In his 12 years as mayor, Maloof was an unabashed cheerleader for Peoria, but it wasn't always smooth sailing.

He opposed the Par-a-dice Casino and was in the middle of a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the city. There was turmoil over inspections, and he had a contentious relationship with some council members.

Things did turn around in Peoria, and by 1997 when Maloof retired from office, Peoria was an All-American City and Caterpillar's CEO and Illinois Governor were there to applaud him.

Out of office but never out of site, Maloof continued to work for St. Jude. In 2010, the new St. Jude Clinic was opened at the Children's Hospital of Illinois. It was named for Jim and Trudy Maloof.

Jim Maloof would always tell the story of his mother's last words to him, words he said always guided him.

"My mother said to me on her death bed, 'Go help the children. God help you,'" said Maloof. "She's in heaven now, with Danny, but she's looking down and saying, you guys aren't doing too bad down there."

Jim Maloof passed away Saturday night at his home, largely due to heart failure, according to the Peoria County Coroner.

Friday at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside Church will be his Celebration of Life, with songs and stories.

Funeral services are tentatively set for Saturday at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Condolences for the family may be sent to the Jim Maloof Realty Peoria office at 803 Pioneer Parkway, Peoria, IL 61615.

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