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John Stroger dies at 78

Friday, January 18, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Gary Washburn

Former Cook County Board President John Stroger, 78, the first African-American to hold the job and the father of the board president, has died.

Cook County Commissioner John Daley, a long-time colleague and friend, said he got word of the death this morning from Stroger's son and successor as county board president, Todd Stroger.

"I have lost a personal friend, but this county has probably lost one of the most outstanding public servants who ever served," Daley said. "He was a great president. . . . Basically, John was a decent human being who loved government."

Stroger never recovered from a debilitating stroke he suffered a week before his March 2006 Democratic primary victory. He never made another public appearance. After he retired, Democratic Party leaders picked his son, Todd, a few months later to replace him on the ballot.

Among his greatest achievements was securing health care for those least able to afford it, Daley said.

"From Day One, he said poor people need the same health care as people going to private hospitals," Daley said.

It was during Stroger's time at the helm of the county that the aged and outmoded Cook County Hospital was replaced by a new, modern facility nearby that bears John Stroger's name.

Daley said he did not know where Stroger died or at what time.

Stroger is the namesake of the county's public hospital, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, which opened in 2002, replacing Cook County Hospital.

First elected to the County Board in 1970, Stroger championed the construction of a new public hospital for years. He made it the focus of his agenda after he was elected board president in 1994.

At the urging of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the County Board named the hospital in honor of Stroger before construction was completed.

"The greatest thing that can make me happy is that this hospital continue to serve the people who definitely need it," Stroger said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 11, 2002, the day before the hospital opened.

A native of Arkansas, Stroger moved to Chicago in 1953 and quickly got involved in local Democratic politics, joining Ralph Metcalfe's 3rd Ward organization.

Stroger and his wife, Yonnie, married in 1959 and later moved south to the city's 8th Ward. In 1968, Mayor Richard J. Daley made Stroger the ward's first black Democratic committeeman.

At the time of his stroke, which occurred March 14, 2006, Stroger was the longest-serving member of the 80-member Cook County Democratic Central Committee.

Party loyalists rallied to his cause, and despite questions about his condition, the bedridden Stroger beat County Commissioner Forrest Claypool to secure the party's nomination for a fourth term.

He retired July 31, 2006, and the County Board appointed Bobbie Steele to fulfill the last four months of his final term. Democratic Party leaders slated Todd Stroger for the November 2006 ballot, and he went on to win the office, beating Republican County Commissioner Tony Peraica.

In addition to his wife and son, Stroger is survived by a daughter, Yonnie Lynn, and two grandchildren. Another son, Hans, died in 1982.



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