PJ and Eileen Quinn: An Ethic of Service


“Hold your parents tenderly
          For the world will seem
A strange and different place
          When they are gone.”
               -- Emily Dickinson

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Both children of Irish immigrants, Gov. Pat Quinn’s parents, P. J. and Eileen Quinn, instilled in their three sons an ethic of service to the community, empathy to others, and a welcoming friendliness to all.

Pat Quinn’s grandparents left Ireland in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and their path to the American Dream was similar to that of countless other immigrant families.

His paternal grandfather, also named Patrick Quinn, had a stint as a Montana copper miner, then came to Chicago’s South Side. In 1915, he opened “Quinn’s Groceries, Meats & Vegetables” at 1124 W. 63rd St., which is now a vacant lot at the northeast corner of May and 63rd St. His motto was “Quinn for Quality, Quantity and Service”.

Pat Quinn’s parents were both born and raised in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. P. J. Quinn worked in his father’s store and graduated from De La Salle High School in 1932. Eileen Prindiville was born before American women had the right to vote under the 19th Amendment in 1920 and graduated from the Academy of Our Lady in 1935.

P. J. Quinn enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of World War II, serving in the Pacific Theater aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard. He served for three years, one month, and 15 days. In a commendation letter from his commanding officer, Quinn is described as “one of the finest men with whom I have ever worked. Extremely capable in his work, he was at all times cheerful, earnest, cooperative, frank, and honest.”

Upon his return home, P. J. Quinn attended and graduated from DePaul University at night thanks to the G.I. Bill of Rights. After World War II, P. J. Quinn worked for decades for the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago as a sexton and personnel director.

P. J. and Eileen Quinn raised three sons (Pat, Tom, and John) in a single-family home in Hinsdale, Illinois, thanks to a mortgage secured by the Veterans Administration. Eileen worked for decades as an assistant to the principal of the Hinsdale Public Middle School. Both P. J. and Eileen Quinn always played energetic roles in their son Pat’s petition and referendum drives and political campaigns. Eileen had the good fortune of meeting Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

P. J. and Eileen Quinn were married for 65 years and were the living embodiment of the Irish symbol of friendship shown in the Claddagh design: hands clasping in friendship, a heart showing love, and a crown symbolizing loyalty.