Cook County Clerk dies at 73 following recent hospitalization

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough has died at the age of 73. 

A spokesperson confirmed she passed away Sunday afternoon, while surrounded by her husband and family. 

Yarbrough was hospitalized last week with a serious medical condition, but further information has not been released, as her family requested privacy.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office issued a statement, shared below: 

"It is with deep sorrow and profound sadness that we learn of the passing of Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. Clerk Yarbrough was a dedicated public servant, a champion for civil rights, and an advocate for the people of Cook County. Her tireless work to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and her commitment to making government more accessible and transparent have left an indelible mark on our community. We extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and all those touched by her remarkable life and enduring legacy. Her spirit and dedication will continue to inspire us all." 

Yarbrough was the first woman and African American to hold the office of the Cook County Clerk after being elected in 2018. 

During her tenure, she made enhancements to the voting process for suburban voters and modernized election voting equipment. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Yarbrough is credited with successfully consolidating all duties of the former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office into the County Clerk's Office, according to city officials. 

The daily operations of the clerk's office will be supervised by Chief Deputy Clerk Cedric Giles.

RELATED: Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough hospitalized in 'serious' condition

Yarbrough and her husband, Henderson, lived in Maywood for quite some time and were active community members. 

Her family released a statement on her passing, shared below: 

"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. As a public servant, she had the courage to stand in support of issues that were not always popular, but she knew them to be right.  She was a champion of women’s rights and a defender of the underprivileged and she touched so many people’s lives for the better. Proud is too small a word for what it means to have someone like her as part of our family."

Several local leaders also issued statements on Yarbrough's passing, shared below: 

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson:

"On behalf of the City of Chicago, I am sending my heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. As the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position of County Clerk, she was both a pioneer and a tireless legislator, committed to social and economic justice throughout decades of public service. 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. Karen Yarbrough forged a path for officials like myself and many others, and my administration is keeping her memory and her family in our hearts during this difficult time."

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton:

"Bryan and I are heartbroken to learn of the passing Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. She was 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. As a fellow elected official and friend, she was always encouraging, and we shared many passionate conversations about advancing equity in our communities. Above all, she was a wonderful human being loved by so many, including her family and friends who mourn her loss. We are praying for them and her colleagues in the Cook County Clerk’s Office as they grieve and send them strength for the journey."

Treasurer Maria Pappas:

"Karen Yarborough and I had a friendship that crossed racial lines. If all blacks and whites got along as well as we did, the city, state, and county would be a better place to live. We were soul sisters and gossip buddies. She is irreplaceable in politics because she represented kindness and compassion. She never had two stories. It's a totally different ball game today. Karen had an innate, God-given talent of compassion that can't be taught. She was born with a gift of kindness. I don't know who in the Democratic party is that gifted. I will miss my locker buddy across the hall."

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans:

"Karen Yarbrough was dedicated to serving the people of this county and committed to fairness in the critical role of counting votes in our elections. I had the honor of swearing her in as the first Black woman to serve in the role of Cook County Clerk. I also respect her years of service in representing the western suburbs in the Illinois state house. She was a true public servant and will be greatly missed."

Cook County Candidate for State's Attorney Bob Fioretti: 

"Today, our hearts are heavy with grief as we mourn the loss of Karen Yarbrough . On behalf of my campaign and myself, I extend our deepest prayers, thoughts, and condolences to Karen Yarbrough’s family, as well as to every resident of Cook County. Karen’s passing transcends party lines and political affiliations. Regardless of the labels we carry or the issues we advocate for, we have lost a remarkable individual whose impact on Cook County will forever be remembered. In this moment of collective sorrow, let us come together as a community to support one another and honor Karen’s memory. Cook County will never be the same without her, but her legacy of service and dedication will continue to inspire us all. Please join me in keeping Karen Yarbrough’s family and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."