PEORIA — Jerry Brady, the Peoria County state's attorney and an icon in the local legal community, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 70.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said Brady passed away at 5:43 p.m. at home, peacefully, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife, Sue, and three grown children.

"Jerry was a distinguished leader in Peoria County. He was not only my colleague, he was my dear friend and mentor. He will be missed dearly," the coroner said.

As the news filtered out, it was met with shock, sadness and loss. Brady's death was described as a huge blow for the community.

Longtime friend Ron Hamm, a retired attorney, met Brady more than 30 years ago when they were together in the State's Attorney's Office under then head prosecutor John Barra.

"I remember when he came to Peoria as an assistant state's attorney and we became friends from the get-go, on the first day that we met on the fifth floor of the old courthouse," Hamm said.

That friendship lasted through the decades as the two would often hunt ducks, though, Hamm admitted, they were more "social hunters" than avid hunters. 

"We did more socializing than shooting," he quipped sadly.

Brady was known for compassion and humanity, said former colleague Jodi Hoos, who is now a judge. For several years, she and Brady worked in the State's Attorneys' Office, including together on the Nathan Leuthold case. He was her boss, and there wasn't a better one, she said.

"No matter how small the case was, he made sure the victim knew what was going on. If he was handling it, he gave it his all and made sure that everyone was up to date on what is going on," Hoos said.

Brady was first appointed as state's attorney in 2011, replacing Kevin Lyons, who became a judge. He was then twice elected to the post. Before his appointment, he was a longtime defense attorney and served a three-year stint as an assistant state's attorney in the early 1980s,

Lyons, who pushed for Brady to replace him, lauded his successor.

"Jerry Brady is the very definition of the gentleman lawyer, ever kind, always there, forever friend," he said.

Brady was a tireless advocate of the Don't Shoot program and went to many of the call-ins where gang members were implored to put down their weapons. But he also would attend the National Night Out programs or neighborhood events. Peoria police Chief Loren Marion III worked closely with Brady, who made trying to reduce gun violence a priority in his office.

“The passing of State's Attorney Jerry Brady is a huge loss for our community. Mr. Brady did so many positive things for the community and public safety. I had the honor to work with Jerry for several years. Jerry was not only a coworker, he was also a friend. Mr. Brady will be greatly missed. Please keep the family in your thoughts and prayers," the chief said.

"Being from the same part of the county where Jerry lived, he was a person who I looked up to since I was a kid," said Sheriff Brian Asbell. "Many will remember Jerry as a respected defense attorney and prosecutor, but I will always remember him as a friend who I could call at any time for advice, which I did quite often. I will miss the way he always greeted me on the phone by saying, "Hey Sheriff" in a consistent upbeat tone in which I could hear his smile."

Brady, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, had made "Honored to Serve" his campaign motto. It was how he lived his life, his peers said.

"Jerry was the hardest working attorney I ever met," said Kevin Sullivan, a longtime defense attorney. "Seven days a week. He took that work ethic with him into the office of the state’s attorney. As the state's attorney, he and I were legal adversaries. I did not always like what he said or the stance he took. But I always respected it and know he thought he was doing what was best for his office and the county of Peoria. I feel bad for his family and his colleagues and staff, his second family."

That sense of family was evident. Brady was well-liked by many. As a private attorney, he was involved in many high profile cases, including ones involving the death of a Bradley University soccer player in a house fire, Peoria police officers who were accused of misconduct and of beating another man, and the Leuthold case.

The latter drew national attention.

"There was no bigger stage in the Peoria County Courthouse in the past decade than the Nathan Leuthold murder trial. It was the first time media coverage was allowed in a courtroom, and 'Dateline' was there, but Jerry Brady couldn’t care less," Hoos said. "He didn’t want fame. It was never about him. I’m not even sure if he ever watched the episode. His only care was providing justice for the victim’s family, and that showed every single day in that trial."

Through it all, the attorney never garnered a reputation of being unseemly. Rather, he had an image of a "Boy Scout."

Lee Smith, a former federal prosecutor and a longtime attorney in private practice, said Brady "had a knack of dealing with people that few lawyers have. A real common touch that permitted him to deal with people of all personalities and income levels."

"I was co-counsel with Jerry in a few cases and had complete confidence in him. And to cap off his career, at a stage when he could have enjoyed the benefits of his hard work, he takes on the tough job of state attorney. He will be missed deeply," Smith said.

Chief Peoria County Judge Paul Gilfilllan added: "People like him don't come around that often. He was in a position of responsibility and yet he exercised appropriate discretion, and his work ethic was unmatched. He was just a calm, common-sense person and attorney."

Jim Ardis, Peoria's mayor, a close friend of Brady, said the prosecutor cared deeply about his job.

"He could have stayed in private practice and made a lot more money. He was just an amazing person. A couple of people have asked me to describe him in a word or two, and that word is integrity. You could never question his integrity," the mayor said.

U.S. District Judge James Shadid was in the defense bar at the same time as Brady.

"Jerry Brady was a good, decent and honest man and public servant. He was a good friend to Dad and Mom and the entire Shadid family, and we are grateful for that. We will miss him," Shadid said.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.