Yvette Shields had a passion for life and people that was bigger than the lakes she swam in and the hats she loved to wear.
Fortunately for Chicago, one of her passions was municipal finance.
She understood it — and its long-term implications. She knew how to cut to the chase, to ask the tough questions and hold accountable those responsible for making financing decisions. She never burned bridges. She earned their respect.
A veteran reporter for The Bond Buyer, Ms. Shields died suddenly this week. She was 57.
Ms. Shields became ill last Saturday, and thought it was a virus. She went to the emergency room Tuesday and died Wednesday, from what friends and family suspect may have been septic shock.
Ms. Shields’ death, just a few months after the death of longtime Civic Federation President Laurence Msall, deprives the city, county and state of two of its foremost experts on municipal finance.
“She termed herself a ‘municipal finance nerd,’” said Jennie Huang-Bennett, Chicago’s chief financial officer under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “She knew it backwards and forwards. She really was the foremost expert on municipal finance in the press.
“She brought accountability and transparency to municipal finance in a way that is so critically important in this moment,” Huang-Bennett said. “And between the passing of Laurence Msall and Yvette, it’s an enormous hole that we have to fill.”
Longtime friend and former Sun-Times and Tribune reporter Mary Wisniewski met Ms. Shields at City News Bureau and worked with her at the Bond Buyer.
Wisniewski was at the Billy Goat when Ms. Shields started scolding a fellow reporter about the perils of a restructured deal that assumed rosy growth in the hotel tax to retire the bonds that bankrolled the renovation of Soldier Field.
“Yvette was saying, `You don’t understand how bad this deal is.’ She was incredulous that people weren’t looking at this deal more closely and were buying the administration’s line that it wouldn’t cost taxpayers money,” Wisniewski said.
“She could look at a deal and say, `No. This is nonsense.’ And she wasn’t afraid to call it out,” she said.
Ms. Shields’ fearlessness came in handy when Wisniewski flew to New York to interview at Bloomberg News, then realized that to qualify for the job, she needed her passport to prove she was a U.S. citizen.
“Yvette broke into my house. She got in through a back window, through the screen, looked through my bedroom until she found my passport and she overnighted it to me. She wanted me to get this other job so I could improve my life,” Wisniewski said.
“This is an irreplaceable person … She was so brilliant but at the same time so kind … This was supposed to be my forever friend — the person I got old with.”
Scott Alwin said Ms. Shields, a longtime friend with whom he had a son, was “wired to have a passion for life. It was just built in.”
She loved visiting the North Woods and swimming in Summit Lake. She adored going to Rhinelander and shopping at what she called her “girlie shop” where she bought so many of her hats, Alwin said.
“She would immediately impress you with how hard she worked and how well she knew the city. She knew every shortcut. She would tell you exactly where to go to avoid traffic. She was the genuine article,” Alwin said.
“She would immediately forge a connection with the person she engaged with. She had a spirit that was irreplaceable,” he said.
Ms. Shields’ 27-year-old daughter is transgender. When Nora came out to her mom at the age of 24, she was “scared to death, shaking actually.” But she didn’t need to be.
“She had heard of it before but didn’t know what it mean,” Nora Shields recalled. “But after I told her, she was so supportive. She went out and got Pride flags. She was every step of the way helping me get access to medical treatments. She would drive me to the appointments.
“I learned to appreciate exactly how special she was,” she said. “I got to see how it was to make friends like she did and how to have a vast support network of people who love and appreciate you for loving and appreciating them.”
Ms. Shields’ son, Wesley Scott Alwin, turns 17 in two weeks. He now will navigate his senior year and choose a college without his mom.
“She was my best friend and confidante,” he said. “I could talk to her about anything. ... She was always so supportive. There was nothing I’d rather be than her son.”
Ms. Shields also is survived by her mother Inez Keller and brother Richard John Shields.
Visitation will be 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Gibbons Funeral Home, 5917 W. Irving Park Road.
The family has set up the Yvette Shields Memorial Fund, primarily to support Wesley’s education.