Bertha Bell Cross, housekeeper for many, loved seeing her kids, grandkids succeed, dead at 85

For decades, she traveled from her South Side home to clean the homes of prominent Gold Coast and Lincoln Park families and became a part of their families, too.

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Bertha Bell Cross.

Bertha Bell Cross.


Bertha Bell Cross, who for decades traveled from the South Side to clean the homes of prominent Gold Coast and Lincoln Park families, delighted in gushing about her grandson, who interned at the White House and attended college and law school.

Mrs. Cross, part of the great migration of Black Southerners who moved north seeking better lives, was raised in Mississippi and left as a young woman.

“She had limited education, so seeing me accomplish things, for her, knowing we’re descendants of slavery, it was a legacy fulfilled,” said her grandson Jaylin D. McClinton, 29, who interned at the White House under President Barack Obama and has done work for Vice President Kamala Harris.

“She basically nurtured us and instilled in us great values,” said Mrs. Cross’ daughter Cassandra Cross. “She showed us the finer things in life as well: travel, fine dining, ballgames, the zoo. She wanted us to know how to act in public, so we visited all types of different places.”

A fine cook, she’d whip up macaroni and cheese, hot-water cornbread and banana pudding “not just for our family but for everyone in the neighborhood,” said her daughter, who helps run Ladies of Virtue, a nonprofit that provides mentorship for young Black girls.

One time, word got out that Mrs. Cross was cooking for her grandson’s birthday party, and adults from the neighborhood started asking if they could come.

“My mom would say, ‘But it’s a kids birthday party. You don’t have any kids. Why do you want to come?’ ” McClinton said. “And they’d say: ‘Because of the food.’ And they’d be sure to bring a present.”

Mrs. Cross died Jan. 19 at 85. She’d had Alzheimer’s disease for years, her family said.

When she hosted — which was often — presentation was important, from her just-so coif, fashionable jewelry and outfits to the crystal that she laid out on a dining table decked in red, her favorite color.

“We knew that, if she was throwing a party, we’d be fed well, laugh much and have a glorious time,” said Mrs. Cross’ granddaughter Tesheena Horn. “It was always hard to go home. She was always going to be jazzy and fabulous, adorned in jewelry, and it always seemed effortless, but it was a lot of work.

“She always greeted her grandkids with a high-pitched, ‘Hey, baby!’ ” Horn said. “And she was a hugger — a big, big hugger. Not just a basic hug. I mean, it was an embrace.”

In 1968, Mrs. Cross took a job in the Lincoln Park home of Bill Singer — the future alderman, mayoral candidate and attorney — and his wife Connie.

“She started as a housekeeper, but she became part of our family,” said Emily Singer Lucio, who says Mrs. Cross helped raise her at a time her parents’ lives were consumed by politics.

“She stayed with my mom after my parents divorced and was with our family for 50 years,” Singer Lucio said. “I can’t express in words the love and affection we feel toward her and her family.

“All she wanted was the best for her kids and grandkids, that they make the most of themselves and do the best they can, obtain every opportunity,” Singer Lucio said. “And we did what we could to help honor that with her, help with the kids with anything, making connections for work or school.

“She had the best laugh and always had a really good sense of humor. She always made me cooked carrots.”

Mrs. Cross, whose husband Billy Ray Cross died in 1970, lived in Englewood when she first came to Chicago before moving to Rosemoor and finally Roseland, where she lived for more than 30 years.

She also worked for decades for Alfy D’Ancona, a real estate developer, and his wife Terri, who had two kids.

“She was a terrific woman and mother and grandmother, and I always admired that about her,” Alfy D’Ancona said. “She was part of our family and just a wonderful and caring woman who always had a smile on her face. And I can’t say enough nice things about her. She’s going be missed. But she’ll have a marvelous time in heaven.”

Mrs. Cross retired in 2016 and had a big party.

In addition to her daughter and two grandchildren, Mrs. Cross is survived by her son Michael Willis and James Jamison, her partner of nearly 30 years.

A viewing will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at Gatling’s Chapel, 10133 S. Halsted St., with a wake there from 11:30 a.m. to noon Feb. 11 followed by a celebration of her life from noon to 1 p.m.

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