Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough remembered at special meeting of Board of Commissioners

73-year-old politician died last month from undisclosed causes

Craig Wall Image
Monday, May 20, 2024
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough remembered at special meeting
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough's family and friends honored her legacy at a special meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Monday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Family, friends and colleagues of former Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough gathered Monday to remember and honor her legacy.

The 73-year-old politician died last month from undisclosed causes.

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Monday morning was a time for people to share stories and remember Yarbrough as a trailblazer who loved serving people through politics, and left an impression on just about everyone she met.

At a special meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, everyone's thoughts were centered on Yarbrough, the former Cook County clerk, who was remembered for her years of dedicated public service.

"If you spent more than about 10 or 15 minutes with her, you left with an assignment; you left with something to do," 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin said.

Yarbrough served as a state lawmaker, then recorder of deeds and finally as county clerk.

She was remembered as a trailblazer and a blunt talker.

SEE MORE: Memorial service held for late Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough

"She was an incredible person, who was full of integrity and compassion. She was very quick to give you advice, course correction, and, before you could be offended, she would smile at you," Mayor Brandon Johnson said.

"I want to thank her for her personal friendship and advice, which she was always quick to give. As many of you know, she didn't bite her tongue," Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said.

A number of relatives were in attendance, including Yarbrough's husband, Henderson. He did not speak, but the clerk's younger sister did on the family's behalf, sharing heartfelt stories.

"The final life lesson that my big sister taught me in the game of life is how to die with dignity," Cheryl Renfro said. "I loved my sister, Karen."

Colleagues recalled her accomplishments as a lawmaker.

"We had the privilege of witnessing her cast the deciding vote on two landmark decisions, one which was ending the executions in Illinois and banning indoor smoking," Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore said.

Others reflected on her support, loyalty and toughness.

"She really was a young woman, like me; she was a coalition builder," Cook County Commissioner Josina Morita said.

"But, most of all, she was an individual in government and in politics, and her word was her bond. If she said she was with you, she was with you. If she was against you, you knew it very well," said John Daley, with the Cook County Commission.

Some of her staff also spoke. One man related how Yarbrough never wanted to be called "boss," but instead wanted people to think of her as the office leader.

On Monday she was remembered well.