This morning I’m flying out to Illinois to attend the funeral for former U.S. Representative Bobby Schilling. Bobby was many things — a loving husband, a devoted father of 10, a dependable friend, a faithful Catholic, a savvy businessman, a giver of both his time and money, a pillar of the community, a statesman, a courageous defender of life and liberty, and, of course, an American patriot.
Many have put together wonderful tributes to him — I particularly enjoyed this one from Jacob Hall and this one from Raheem Kassam — but it’s hard to do great men justice in just a few hundred words. He did so much in a short time. He lived such a full life. Still, I’ll do my best to describe the man I came to know and love.
I met Bobby Schilling during his initial run for Congress back in 2010. Bobby had no political experience and was running in a gerrymandered district held by Democrats for nearly 30 years. The incumbent was viewed as such a shoe-in he ran completely unopposed in 2008. To say Bobby was an underdog is an understatement. And yet…
He had a special quality that made people believe in him. He connected with people from all walks of life — Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, Black folks and white folks. He traveled the district and made sure to stop in every county and every town. He campaigned upwards of 70 hours a week for twenty consecutive months. His energy was intoxicating, and seemingly everyone wanted to be a part of it. His campaign, run by his then-23 year old son, Terry, raised more than a million dollars in 2010 alone. Hundreds of volunteers came from out of the woodwork to put up yard signs, knock on doors, and make phone calls. Something was happening, and we all knew it. And sure enough, Bobby Schilling defeated incumbent Congressman Phil Hare by nearly ten points. Of course he did.
The result made sense to anyone who knew Bobby. This is what he did his entire life. He took on impossible challenges and succeeded anyway. He fought tooth and nail for everything he had. He grew up working poor, never graduated college, battled addiction, and overcame all of that to live an incredible life with his wonderful family. He excelled as an insurance salesman. He started multiple successful restaurants. He built two houses from the ground up. Why wouldn’t he win a seat in Congress? Who better to win a seat in Congress?
It is not an exaggeration to say that I owe everything to Bobby Schilling. He gave me my start in politics: I worked for his campaigns in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and advised his campaign in 2020. And he taught me so much — about people, about friendship and loyalty, about the way the world works, about living the best life.
But even more importantly, Bobby led me toward Catholicism. I grew up Lutheran, but had fallen away from attending church during my college years. Bobby’s witness, which I experienced largely through the love of his family, encouraged me to begin attending Mass and eventually RCIA classes. I finally joined the Church on Easter in 2016. This mattered a great deal not just for my salvation but because it gave me my family — I met my wife, a faithful Catholic, in 2015. We now have two sons, Pius and Leo, and one more coming in May.
So let me just say it. Thank you, Bobby Schilling, for everything.
You often hear people suggest that someone died too young. Bobby was 57 — cancer took him too soon. But he certainly didn’t waste any time. He accomplished so much. Ten kids. Fourteen grandkids with a few more on the way. Wonderful friendships. Success in business. Success in politics. An unwavering commitment to his faith. Bobby really did have it all.
The sadness here is not in Bobby’s passing. He knew his Redeemer, so we can feel confident about where he’s headed. The sadness is in what we’ve lost — a great man at a time when America needs great men. They just don’t make ‘em like Bobby Schilling anymore. We’re going to miss him badly.