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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Peter M. Shannon Jr., 1928-2014 : Illinois Attorney fought for rights of children with developmental disabilities

Chicago Tribune obituary 

May 26, 2014|By Joan Giangrasse Kates, Special to the Tribune

Peter M. Shannon Jr., whose son became the first student in Illinois with a cognitive disability to graduate from high school without taking any special education classes, wanted to make sure other families in similar situations had their rights protected.
So, Mr. Shannon, a lawyer by trade, became a staunch advocate of inclusion, fought for the rights of children with developmental disabilities on a pro-bono basis, encouraged other law firms to do the same and mentored many attorneys in helping these children with their educational placements.
"I will always remember sitting next to Peter at several due process hearings and marveling at the calm yet powerful way he fought each case," said Patricia Herbst, executive director of the Center for Independence through Conductive Education, a nonprofit organization in Countryside. "He won each and every one of them — unheard of in lawsuits against school districts."
Mr. Shannon, 85, of Western Springs, a retired attorney with Arnstein & Lehr law firm in Chicago, died Monday, April 21, in his home, of complications related to vascular dementia.
In 1996, Mr. Shannon's son Eamon, diagnosed with Down syndrome, graduated from Lyons Township High School in La Grange.
"His work will live on through the many lives he has touched," said Herbst, herself the parent of a son with cerebral palsy who graduated from high school and college. "Three of the children from our center that Peter represented are now attending colleges throughout Illinois. His work still benefits every single child that walks through our doors."
Born and raised on the South Side in the Beverly neighborhood, Mr. Shannon was one of seven children. After graduating from Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, he attended the University of St. Mary of the Lake seminary in Mundelein and was ordained in 1953.
Mr. Shannon earned a degree in canon law from the Gregorian Institute in Rome in 1958. Upon his return to Chicago, he worked as a chief judge in the Marriage Tribunal of the Chicago Chancery, before being elected president of the Canon Law Society of America in 1964. Five years later, he left the ministry and married his wife, Anne.
In 1972, Mr. Shannon earned a law degree from Boalt Hall Law School at the University of California at Berkeley. He moved with his wife to the Washington area and became a litigation attorney in the Criminal Appellate Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and later served as national director of the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.
After the 1976 birth of Eamon, Mr. Shannon and his wife began experiencing the challenges faced by other parents with children with developmental disabilities who want their children to have the same opportunities for public education as children without disabilities.
"From the start, Peter did everything he could to ensure the best education possible for our son," his wife said. "He believed so strongly in Eamon. Where others saw deficits, he saw only potential."
In 1986, Mr. Shannon returned to the Chicago area with his family and settled in Western Springs. He became a partner, initially at the Chicago law firm of Keck Mahin & Cate and later at Arnstein & Lehr, where he represented both corporate and nonprofit clients and served on the boards of numerous nonprofits serving children with disabilities, until his retirement in 2003.

"Peter's passion to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate education allowed our center and, most importantly, our children to flourish," Herbst said. "He was the perfect example of how one person can make a real difference."
Mr. Shannon was preceded in death by Eamon in 2006.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two other sons, Peter and Stephen; a daughter, Heather; two brothers, Patrick and Dan; a sister, Donna Mulchrone; and 10 grandchildren.
Services were held.
RIP Mr. Shannon

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