Judy Block: A Light of Leadership



By Judy Carmack Bross




Flip Block, Susu Block, Margie Block Stineman, and Kevin Stineman at a Field Museum Gala honoring Judy Block, Center. Photo by Bob Carl.


The fact that two of Chicago’s most heartfelt women leaders and pathfinders died two days apart last week caused so many not only to stop and pay tribute to Ann Lurie and Judy Block, but also to wonder how our city which they so shaped can go on without them? Not only in Chicago, but in Africa, Ann Lurie imprinted her hands on philanthropy and in Chicago Judy Block educated three generations on effective volunteer leadership.


Judy Block


We wanted to write a little more about Judy whose leadership in many varied events we covered in this magazine, and honor both women, knowing that Chicago will always be more cognitive of caregiving because of their resolute effectiveness as change agents.


“It has been said that Judy Block has an unending curiosity about the city and the world that is only matched by her desire to see it improve for everyone,” Dara Munson, Family Focus President and CEO, on presenting an achievement award to Judy Block last fall.


Family Focus Board Chair Dennis Abboud said at that luncheon in her honor: “Judy has literally touched every corner of Chicago, serving on the boards of many of our iconic museums and institutions. Her recent award recognizes the depth and length of her involvement with the Chicago Child Care Society, which merged with Family Focus in 2021, as well as her empathic and strategic work on behalf of children and determination to never give up finding ways to serve.”


Flip Block accompanies trustee, former Board Chair, and past Field Museum Women’s Board President, Judy Block, to the stage to accept the Marshall Field V Award. Photo by Bob Carl.


A past president of the Field’s Women’s Board and the first woman to chair the museum’s Board of Trustees, Block received the 2019 Marshall Field V Award for Distinguished Leadership.

Marshall Field V celebrated Block: “It’s difficult to fully express the impact Judy Block has had at the museum over four decades. She has displayed outstanding leadership and support. She became the first woman to chair the board of a major cultural institution in Chicago when she took on her role as our board chair in 1997, and she was the driving force behind our acquisition of Sue, the world’s largest and most complete T. Rex fossil.”


We asked Francia Harrington who has observed Block’s remarkable leadership up close over many years, to tell us more about this extraordinary leader:

“For all of us who have had the privilege of working with and learning from Judy Block, she will always be a role model.  She was energetic, empathetic and warm, with a wonderful laugh.  She will always be known as a dedicated and determined champion for children. She will always be remembered as a true force for good, and always known for her intelligence and integrity.

“Judy always led by example, setting the bar high and expecting accountability. We served on the board of Chicago Child Care Society together. When we merged to become Family Focus, we aspired to fulfill her vision of an organization of stature, significant importance and serious impact. She was always the best prepared, hardest working and most knowledgeable leader on the board.”

“Judy had a great sense of humor and compassion for community. As an advocate at the board table, she was consistently down to business, disciplined, clear thinking and straight talking. She articulated her priorities and positions with passion and persistence. She was truly a tireless, courageous and generous voice for children.”

“She taught us. She told us, and she showed us what it meant to be a servant leader. Her legacy in philanthropy lives on through her family and friends. As colleagues, we will continue to strive to reflect her values, match her work ethic and make her extremely proud. Her commitment and contributions will continue to inspire us. We will always look up to Judy Block.”


Judy Block loved volunteering with young children.


A memory of her non-profit work:


Judy Block headed the boards of major institutions and addressed crowds with poise and ease. She never missed an occasion to promote juvenile justice no matter how large or how small the forum, and no one was a better connector of people who could get the job done. However, my favorite memory about her non-profit work came when I encouraged her to talk more about her work as an advocate in the courts for young children. She described, with much encouraging on my part and much modesty on hers, how she would return day after day to sit with a child in a courtroom, something that she did out of love, knowing that the child needed a friend. That memory will always that show to me that true leaders are equally capable of serving one-on-one with equal determination.


A personal memory:


My late husband John and I were lucky to travel with Judy and her late husband P.D. to Germany, laughing with them constantly as we explored Baden Baden, loving their joy for life. We ended up in Munich where her son Flip and his wife Susu were living with very young children. Judy as grandmother was so fun, her hands-on enthusiasm a delight.


And to see her daughter Margie Stineman who has her mother’s strength of purpose in a community context made Judy so proud, people see her mom in her.


Margie Stineman told us last December following the Family Focus luncheon:


“I am thankful to the Family Focus family for honoring my mom. She has provided countless volunteer hours to so many different organizations, made a positive impact on so many communities, and given so much to Chicago as a whole. She has worked tirelessly in her life for the causes she believes in and the organizations of which she is a part. Although she would never pick a favorite organization or cause because she genuinely cares so deeply about all of them, the children who are without opportunity, safety, support, and love and who cannot speak up for themselves, have always been her priority.”


Judy Block with three generations of her family at the family Focus Luncheon.


Block’s leadership at the Chicago Child Care was multifaceted from Board President to oversight of many programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start. She spearheaded the creation of a library at the Hyde Park Center, now named in her honor. She worked with other child-centered organizations such as serving as a Director of the Jane Addams Juvenile Court Foundation and Life Trustee of the Chicago Foundation for Education. In addition, she was a 10-year member of the Executive Committee of The Chicago Community Trust, led organizations like Know Your Chicago as well as served on the Board of Trustees at her alma mater, Northwestern University where she received the Alumni Service Award.

She received the Kids Count Award from the Voices for Illinois Children, the Chairman’s Award from the United Way of Chicago where she served as a past Director, and National Society of Fundraising Executives Volunteer of the Year award.


Judy Block as a young volunteer.


She was Judy to everyone, and with a welcoming smile and often a humorous retort for all. Dara Munson got it just right that day:

“Across this great city’s cultural and educational institutions, foundations and community nonprofits, this phenomenal person has been called a gem, an icon, a giant, a warrior and champion for children. At Family Focus, we get to call her Judy – our friend, a true visionary, and longstanding ambassador and cheerleader for the children and families we serve every day.”