John Stroger dies at 78


Stroger was 78 years old. He was the Cook County Board's first African-American president. He is being remembered as a legendary public servant.

Seventy-eight-year-old John Stroger died at Northwestern Hospital at 8 a.m. Friday morning. At his bedside were family members, including his son and elected successor, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Until his illness in March of 2006, he was recognized as the elder statesman among active Chicago politicians.

He made history in 1994 when elected to be the first African-American president of the Cook County Board. But John Stroger's political story began in 1953, when the likeable young transplant from Helena, Arkansas, helped turn out Democratic voters in South Side precincts. From then, through the 1960's, he worked for the courts, the jail and the state while earning a law degree from DePaul University.

In 1968, Stroger was elected 8th Ward committeeman and rose in the party ranks as a staunch African-American ally of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and he was one of the few black politicians to support Daley's son during the late 1980's.

Stroger spent 18 years, beginning in 1976, on the Cook County Board before becoming president. He lost a brother who was turned away from a segregated hospital in the South, and the availability of quality healthcare became his pet issue. He struggled for decades -- sometimes alone -- to make sure the Cook County Hospital remained open.

"He had to fight many colleagues to get that done. He committed most of his career as president of the county board getting that done," said Sen. Emil Jones, Illinois Senate president.

John Stoger's legacy is the new Cook County Hospital that bears his name. In the 1970's and '80's, when counties around the country were getting out of the healthcare business, Stroger fought for universal access to health care. It is a popular issue right now, but he led the fight decades ago.

The last time he was seen in public was on the day of his stroke, on a gurney entering Northwestern Medical Center. There would be many trips to and from the hospital during the past 22 months.

Even close friends and political allies would never see John Stroger again.

"I respect the family's privacy. We went through that. And I think it's a time you should respect their privacy throughout this entire ordeal," said John Daley, Cook County commissioner.

"He cared passionately about the people of this community. He fought for healthcare. I mean, that's why we have a Cook County Hospital. That's why we have a Stroger Hospital. He gave everything he had," said Carol Moseley Braun, former senator.

"He was an inspiration to all of us in politics. He really believe that government could make changes, and I think his greatest legacy is building Cook County Hospital. When people told him that county hospitals, public hospitals ended many years ago, he firmly believed that people needed good quality healthcare, and so I think that was a lasting legacy for John Stroger, cook County Hospital, when he had the vision and commitment of many years to build this wonderful facility," said Mayor Daley.

A family spokesman Friday would not release any details concerning Stroger's condition prior to his death or what caused him to return to Northwestern Hospital from the hospice situation where he was in care.

The wake for John Stroger will be next Tuesday, January 22, from noon until 8 p.m. at St. Columbanus Church, 331 E. 71st St. in Chicago.

You can view his body on Wednesday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at St. Felicitas Church at 1526 E. 84th St. His funeral is set for 11 a.m.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Noon until 8:00 p.m
St. Columbanus Church
331 East 71st Street
Chicago, Illinois

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
9 a.m. until 11 a.m.
St. Felicitas Church
1526 E. 84th Street

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
11 a.m.
St. Felicitas

Details regarding the internment will be announced at St. Felicitas on the day of the mass.

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