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Tribute to Stroger brings tears to boardroom

Thursday, July 13, 2006
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

It’s not often Cook County Board meetings are moving.
But Wednesday, several people in the gallery sobbed and wiped away tears as board members paid tribute to outgoing President John H. Stroger Jr.
Perhaps the most remarkable send-off was given not by commissioners who often voted with Stroger, or who shared his political party, his city, or who were even the same color as the legendary Democratic politician, but by a white Republican from the suburbs.
Carl Hansen managed to move the gallery by focusing on what they did have in common: 30-plus years of service, coming up through the ranks, an impending retirement from the board and health issues that come with getting older.
“You know, it’s very difficult to think about what’s happened to John,” said Hansen, referring to the president’s March stroke.
“He had every right to win the election he did. He enjoyed it. His wife didn’t want him to run again. He wanted to run. And for such a thing to happen, it’s almost beyond understanding.
“It’s one thing to lose an election. People win and lose elections. … But to lose an election the way John won and lost this time, is something all of us can think about because none of us is immune to something like that happening.
“John enjoyed government. He really enjoyed government. This was his world.
“You’ve got to understand who John is. John came from Helena, Arkansas, OK? And he fought his way up from Helena, Arkansas. And he fought, literally, to get where he was. And he did not forget the lessons of that fighting. Matter of fact, sometimes … to excess, when everybody else was thinking of resolving something, and John wanted to keep on fighting.
“But fight he did, and succeed he did as a result of his course being firmly aligned with what he believed most deeply about.
“He understood discrimination. He was a victim of discrimination. He understood it as probably as none of us can understand it … because he was so exposed (to it) in the halls of government where he worked.
“But he always believed he could make a difference. And make a difference he did. I can remember when he was first on the board … and immediately he was working on trying to get better health services for people,” said Hansen, who recalled the ferocity with which Stroger worked for the poor.
“This is one of the reasons why, for example, when someone would say, well, why did you vote for John Stroger’s name on the hospital? ’Cause if you understood John, you would vote for it that way also, if you really understood him. He was a fighter.
“Loyal he was, as has been mentioned here, to his own party. Loyal to a fault. Matter a fact, there were a couple of occasions where he was the only vote left with (past board presidents), believe it or not, because of the difficulty in resolving (an) issue. But John never swayed. He looked at the (Democratic) party as the court in which he lived. And he was loyal to it.
“It’s difficult to think that John has to suffer what he has suffered. But we can take solace in the fact that what he left behind … was good. As his thoughts still today are of what is good. And so, John , all I can say, at this time is, God bless.”

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