Connie Haygood loved family. Not just her own — the general concept of family.
It’s what made her such a successful social worker, devoted as she was to repairing and reunifying families — or protecting children when repair was impossible — during nearly three decades as an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services caseworker.
“Connie was a mother to all, a giving person who deeply believed in helping those in need. And she just loved children. It’s why she loved her job at DCFS and was so good at it,” said her sister, Debbie Baldwin.
“Everybody loved Connie, at her job, and in our family.”
Ms. Haygood died Friday at Mt. Sinai Hospital, of complications stemming from a hereditary heart condition. She was 56.
Born in Chicago, Ms. Haygood was raised in the Robert Taylor Homes, and attended Dunbar Vocational Career Academy. She was the first in her family to attend college, attending the University of Iowa, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in social work in 1988.
It was at University of Iowa that Ms. Haygood pledged her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the sorority of Vice President Kamala Harris, about which she was passionate throughout her life.
“She just loved, loved, loved AKA,” her cousin, Carolyn Newson, who grew up with Ms. Haygood and attended the University of Iowa with her, pledging on the same spring 1984 sorority line with her, recounted.
“My mom and her mom are sisters, so we came up together. We were cousins. But she was my BFF, my sister, my soror, wrapped in one,” Newson said.
“Connie was such a caring person. It’s why she went into social work. She deeply cared about family and family values, and about parents raising their children properly. If she saw that wasn’t happening, she was always ready to jump in and help. My heart hurts at the loss.”
Ms. Haygood would go on to obtain her master’s degree in social work from Chicago State University, beginning her DCFS career in December 1993.
Over the course of 27 years, Ms. Haygood, an advance practice specialist, worked in all three of the state child welfare agency’s specialty divisions: family permanency, intact family services and child protection.
As a caseworker, she was truly passionate about improving the lives of marginalized populations, said DCFS Deputy Chief of Staff Tracey King, who knew Ms. Haygood before both arrived at the agency.
“I met Connie as an undergraduate student at Northern Illinois University. We belonged to the same sorority, and my AKA chapter took a road trip to see her chapter perform,” King said.
“We camped out on the floor, and I just remember her being so concerned about ensuring we had what we needed — that we were comfortable. Her kindness really struck me,” she said.
“Then when I came to work for DCFS in June 1994, we found each other again. And she brought that same character trait of compassion and caring to her job, whether in seeking the well-being of her clients, or whether it was her concern for her colleagues. Connie was special.”
On Ms. Haygood’s social media sites, tributes that poured in included reflections from families to whom she had provided DCFS services in the past. Many remained grateful.
“Connie loved people. Her professional and personal life mimicked each other. She was, in fact, what she did — a giver, devoted to helping those in need,” said good friend Keneesha Craig, who met Ms. Haygood while she was working on her master’s, during her internship.
“DCFS work is hard. There’s a lot of pull on your emotions, your energy. And Connie sacrificed a lot to make sure everybody else was OK,” Craig said.
In recent years, Ms. Haygood had been caring for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, the two sharing the building Ms. Haygood purchased for her family on the city’s Southeast Side.
She became ill in August, after returning from a bucket list trip to Hawaii with her family.
“She loved to travel, and she used to say, ‘Before I leave this Earth, I’m going to Hawaii,’” her favorite niece, Zakikeyyah Brown — with whom she was very close — recounted.
“She pushed and motivated everybody in our family, and everyone she knew. She kept our family together. She was the person you called in the middle of the night, because she’s going to get up and try to help you. She had such an uplifting spirit. Everyone called her ‘Auntie Connie,’ because she had a heart of gold. There was no one like Aunt Connie.”
Besides her sister, survivors include her mother, Bessie Haygood; and two brothers, Rail Hibbler and Samuel Haygood.
Visitation will be held noon-7 p.m. Friday at Cage Memorial Chapel, 7651 S. Jeffery. Services will be held 11 a.m. — 12 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home, with a wake preceding, at 10 a.m.