Cook County Mourns the Loss of Trailblazing Public Servant Karen Yarbrough

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, a trailblazer and dedicated public servant, passed away on Sunday afternoon at the age of 73. Yarbrough, who was the first woman and first African American to hold the position of Cook County Clerk, had been hospitalized last week with a serious medical condition. Her death has left a void in the hearts of many who knew her and admired her unwavering commitment to serving the people of Illinois.

A Life Dedicated to Public Service

Karen Yarbrough’s career in public service spanned over three decades, during which she held various positions in local and state politics. Before being elected as Cook County Clerk in 2018, she served as Cook County Recorder of Deeds from 2012 to 2018 and as an Illinois State Representative from 2001 to 2012, representing parts of the western suburbs.

Throughout her tenure, Yarbrough was known for her tireless work ethic and her dedication to advancing the causes she believed in. As Cook County Clerk, she implemented significant changes, including modernizing election voting equipment and enhancing the voting process for suburban voters. She also successfully managed the consolidation of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office into the Clerk’s Office during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Yarbrough’s family released a statement, saying, “Karen Yarbrough was a wife, mother, sister, aunt and mentor to everyone who met her. So many of us stand on her shoulders and are actively walking pathways that she forged.” They also noted her courage in supporting issues that were not always popular but that she knew to be right, and her role as a champion of women’s rights and a defender of the underprivileged.

Breaking Barriers and Inspiring Others

As the first woman and first African American to hold the position of Cook County Clerk, Karen Yarbrough broke barriers and paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps. Her election to the office in 2018 was a historic moment, and she used her platform to advocate for social and economic justice throughout her decades of public service.

Yarbrough’s legacy as a trailblazer and role model will continue to inspire future generations of public servants. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, in a statement, described Yarbrough as “a dedicated public servant and paved the way for so many as the first Black person and first woman to serve as Cook County Clerk.” Stratton also noted that Yarbrough was “a wonderful human being loved by so many, including her family and friends who mourn her loss.”

Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs called Yarbrough a “towering figure” in the Democratic Party, saying, “Clerk Yarbrough was a trailblazer who broke barriers, including serving as the first female and the first African American Cook County clerk.” He added, “My thoughts are with her family during this difficult time, and I grieve the loss of a dedicated public servant.”

An Outpouring of Tributes and Condolences

The news of Karen Yarbrough’s passing has been met with an outpouring of tributes and condolences from political leaders and members of the community across Illinois. Governor JB Pritzker called her a “good friend” and a “devoted public servant who led a life full of incredible impact for the people of Illinois.”

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson described Yarbrough as “a pioneer and a tireless legislator, committed to social and economic justice throughout decades of public service.” He added, “Her passion for ensuring that communities experience the full support of their governing bodies and benefit from the fruits of our democracy will truly be missed, as will her radiant smile.”

The Cook County Clerk’s Office also released a statement, saying, “We have lost one of the brightest lights in the public service arena in Cook County and the State of Illinois and we will never be quite the same.” Chief Deputy Clerk Cedric Giles noted that Yarbrough “brought a unique spirit, energy, and compassion to her role in public service, and she used those gifts to bring out the best in all of us.”

A Legacy That Will Endure

Yarbrough’s passing marks the end of an era in Cook County politics, but her legacy as a dedicated public servant, trailblazer, and role model will endure. Her tireless work ethic, commitment to social and economic justice, and unwavering dedication to serving the people of Illinois will continue to inspire future generations of public servants.

As the Cook County Clerk’s Office resumes operations under Chief Deputy Clerk Cedric Giles, the impact of Yarbrough’s leadership and vision will be felt for years to come. Her family, friends, and colleagues will undoubtedly continue to honor her memory by carrying on her work and building upon the foundation she laid throughout her decades of public service.