Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele died Monday afternoon at his North Lawndale neighborhood home following a long battle with diabetes. He was 55.
“I am saddened to learn of the death today of Commissioner Robert Steele,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Robert’s life was marked by his long career in public service for the residents of Chicago and Cook County.”
Steele was sworn in to the 2nd district board seat previously held by his mother Bobbie Steele when she retired in 2006. She was the first woman to serve as Cook County board president following the unexpected death of John Stroger.
Robert Steele previously was a Chicago Park District administrator who was heavily involved in community-based efforts in his native West Side.
Officials haven’t said what caused his death. Steele was diagnosed with diabetes in his 20s and received a kidney transplant from his sister Joyce Steele in 2010. He went on to work as an advocate for organ donation, serving on the Gift of Hope board of directors.
“Even as a public figure I am still a normal person,” Robert Steele said in a 2011 interview with the Chicago Defender. “When you take away the titles, [officials are] just regular people. And it is important that regular people know that there are opportunities for them if there are other folks in their families and in their community who are willing to donate.
“Don’t sit at home and wait for somebody to bring it (organ tissue donation) to you and your family,” he said. “As minorities, it’s important for us to use our families … and our neighbors and our friends who can actually donate to a cause like this and save a life.”
Steele was president pro tempore of the county board and the forest preserve district board, and chairman of the environmental control and contract compliance committees. He also served on Mount Sinai Hospital’s board of directors and was a trustee of Frazier Preparatory Academy and president of the National Association of Black County Officials from 2008 to 2010.
“My heart is broken at the passing of Robert Steele, a dedicated, committed public servant & brother beloved,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted. “He will be greatly missed.”
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans lauded Steele’s efforts to set up a community court for nonviolent young people in North Lawndale.
“Commissioner Steele recognized the value of compassionate justice and how it can restore the defendant, the victim and the community as a whole,” Evans said.
“I had the pleasure of serving with Robert for the last 11 years where he worked diligently on behalf of the residents of Cook County,” Commissioner John P. Daley said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire Daley family, I offer my thoughts and prayers to his mother, former Board President Bobbie Steele, and to his family in this time of sorrow.”
“Robert Steele was a passionate and committed Chicagoan who dedicated his life to public service and strengthening communities,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an emailed statement. “From his tenure as Community Outreach Manager of the Chicago Park District to his time as a Cook Country Commissioner, Robert was a proven advocate a for the city’s health services. While he hailed from North Lawndale, Robert was deeply devoted to Chicago’s West and South Sides. Amy and I join with all Chicagoans in mourning his loss and extend our deepest condolences to the Steele family on this difficult day.”
Under a Cook County ordinance, Steele’s replacement will be chosen by a committee of Democratic leaders from Steele’s West Side district.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.