Elmer L. Beard Jr., who headed CHA and served under 7 Chicago mayors, dies at 82

SHARE Elmer L. Beard Jr., who headed CHA and served under 7 Chicago mayors, dies at 82

Elmer L. Beard served under seven Chicago mayors and held a top job during a tumultuous era at the Chicago Housing Authority.

In 1982, Mr. Beard was appointed executive director of the CHA, making him the highest-ranking African-American at the agency at a time when Mayor Jane Byrne had angered black voters by creating a white majority on the CHA board.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had threatened to withhold CHA funds if she didn’t remove the agency’s chair, Charles Swibel, a top Byrne fundraiser, amid allegations of mismanagement. Byrne wrote about the episode in her book, “My Chicago,” saying she placated a HUD official by telling him “Swibel would be replaced by the executive director, Andrew Mooney, as full-time chairman, and Elmer Beard, a black deputy commissioner of the city’s Housing Department, would transfer over to CHA as executive director.”

Mr. Beard wound up being fired by a subsequent CHA chairman, Afro-American Patrolmen’s League organizer Renault Robinson, but landed a job as deputy commissioner of the Department of Sewers. Mr. Beard also served with the city Department of Planning and Development.

He died Feb. 2 of Lewy body dementia at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 82.

In addition to Mayor Byrne, he worked at City Hall during the administrations of Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic, Harold Washington, interim mayor David Orr, Eugene Sawyer and Richard M. Daley. After retiring in 1994 with about 35 years with the city, he founded Elmer L. Beard and Associates, a financial and construction consulting firm that worked on the expansion of Chicago State University, said a friend, Carmen Gonzalez.

He loved golf. Mr. Beard started playing in the 1950s at Jackson Park. In 1991, he helped found the Jackson Park Golf Association, where he pushed for Evans scholarships to go to Jackson Park caddies.

He told the Chicago Sun-Times that when he was a youth, “blacks were not welcome at most Park District courses. . . . We played mostly at [Cook] County courses. The area around Jackson [Park] was primarily Irish and Jewish, and there were a lot of altercations.”

He also promoted golf as a networking tool, telling Black Enterprise magazine that the sport offers a chance “to interact with white counterparts for four-and-a-half hours . . . golf is walking shoulder-to-shoulder for 6,000 yards.”

He went on to form the Greater Chicagoland Golf Association. He was the first African-American to serve as a director of the Western Golf Association, according to Black Enterprise.

Mr. Beard’s father was superintendent of the city’s Hyde Park post office. He grew up in Woodlawn and went to McCosh grade school, Englewood High School and Roosevelt University, according to friends and family.

He is survived by his daughters, Lynn Marie Beard and Susan Gay Beard. Another daughter, Jill Allyson Beard, died before him. He also is survived by a sister, Sue Love.

A memorial service is planned from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the penthouse of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., said his daughter, Susan.

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