She was the GOP candidate for Illinois secretary of state in 1978
Sharon Sharp, whose accidental entry into politics started with a $10 loan from Donald Rumsfeld, ran for Illinois secretary of state in the late 1970s and was the state's lottery director under Gov. Jim Thompson.
Mrs. Sharp, 69, died of lung cancer Sunday, July 5, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said her son, Christopher "Kip" Sharp. She lived on the city's Gold Coast.
Mrs. Sharp had held posts in the Elk Grove Township and Cook County Republican organizations, and was the Elk Grove Township clerk, when she was slated as the GOP candidate for secretary of state in 1978.
She mounted a tough campaign and put up thousands of dollars of her own money, but was trounced by incumbent Alan Dixon. Saddled with campaign debts and figuring the party owed her one, she traveled to Springfield to see Thompson about a job, her son said.
The governor named her his special assistant for women, and she later became deputy director of marketing with the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. In 1987, Thompson tapped her to run the state's lottery after the highly regarded Rebecca Paul left to start a lottery in Florida.
"She was bright and engaging, and she had a salesperson's [demeanor], which is what you have to have as lottery director," Thompson said. "She was free-spirited and a lot of fun to be with."
Mrs. Sharp introduced a second weekly Lotto drawing and several games to widen the lottery's appeal, and was a tireless booster for the games. "I don't know anyone who got on the radio at 5 in the morning more often," her son said. "She was a tremendously hard worker."
She resigned from her post in Illinois in 1991 and took over as director of the California lottery a few months later. "That might have been her proudest moment, because she didn't know anyone there and it's a political game," her son said.
In her two years running California's lottery, she boosted revenue for what had been a financially challenged enterprise.
"She was so bright and so good at organizing and advertising," said Paul, who now runs the lottery in Tennessee. "She also understood political sensitivities, what today they'd call corporate responsibility. You want to raise as much money as you can for education, but you want to do it responsibly."
After resigning in California in 1993, Mrs. Sharp consulted with lotteries in a number of states as well as in Russia and South Africa, her son said. She also worked with private companies.
The former Sharon Barts grew up in South Bend, Ind., and briefly attended nursing school before finding she didn't care for the sight of blood, her son said. Her boyfriend Don Sharp picked her up from the school and took her home, where her father asked, "What are you going to do now?"
She married and moved to the Chicago suburbs with her husband, who owned a life insurance brokerage.
Her political career can be traced to a winter day in the late 1960s, when she drove to O'Hare to pick up her husband, only to find his flight had been diverted because of a snowstorm.
Her two young children were hungry and crying, but she had no money with her. Rumsfeld, then a congressman, happened along and lent her $10, demurring when she asked his address so she could pay him back.
She remembered his name, and when she later saw he was giving a speech at an Elk Grove Township Republican Organization event, she showed up to pay him back.
She took the opportunity to sign up as a volunteer and became active in the party. A couple of years later, she went back to school to get an associate's degree in journalism from Harper College in Palatine. Her political work and her run for secretary of state transformed a shy housewife, her son said.
"That whole running for office made a big difference," her son said. "She really blossomed through that."
Don Sharp died in 2006.
Survivors also include a daughter, Laura Brackett; a sister, Susan LaFrenz; and two grandchildren.
Services will be private.
Sharon Sharp, former director of the Illinois and California lotteries, died at age 69.