URBANA — Former Mayor Hiram Paley will be remembered as a leading progressive voice in the community, a mathematician and an avid photographer.
Professor Paley passed away in hospice care Monday morning. He was 78.
His wife of nearly 50 years, Jean Paley, said he loved the city of Urbana — he remained active in community issues and politics long after his single term as mayor ended in 1977.
"I think he loved living here," Jean Paley said. "This was a place where you could effect change. He loved the parks, he loved the city."
Mayor Laurel Prussing said the city was known as very progressive under his leadership. Even before he was mayor, he advocated for open housing and demonstrated against Urbana stores over hiring practices.
While he was mayor, he signed a human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination for characteristics including race, gender and sexual orientation. Now, such ordinances are typical for local governments, but at the time it was unusual.
"They were always looking at new things," Prussing said of his administration.
He was present in Prussing's earliest political experiences.
"That was my first political experience, was going to the Urbana City Council and talking to them about environmental things," Prussing said.
Professor Paley supported rules on non-smoking sections in restaurants, Prussing said. It was one of the first prohibitions on smoking that eventually evolved into a statewide indoor smoking ban, she added.
"I'm going to miss him," Prussing said. "I think he was a really good person, and I think a lot of Democrats will miss him."
Because of his lifetime efforts in working for progressive causes, Professor Paley received the Roger Baldwin Award from the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union in 2005.
Professor Paley was engaged politically, most often in Democratic campaigns. He and his wife were regular hosts for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin events, but that did not mean he had a closed mind, Jean Paley said.
"I think he got along really well with people on both sides of the aisle," she said.
Jean Paley also described her husband as an avid photographer. He was a member of the Champaign County Camera Club and organized its annual Photographic Print Competition. In October, 40 North 88 West group — Champaign County's arts, culture and entertainment council — honored him with an ACE award for his volunteer efforts with the camera club
The son of Russian immigrants, Professor Paley arrived in Urbana in 1959. He had just received his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin and was a new member of the University of Illinois faculty.
Jean Paley arrived at the university as an undergraduate the same year. They would meet during her sophomore year and spend the next 50 together.
Professor Paley had suffered from cancer for years.
"He hung around for me," Jean Paley said. "I told him I wanted him to do that."