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Eddie McCann, counseled inmates in Markham, dead at 91

As a boy, Eddie McCann Sr. sold fruits and vegetables from his Radio Flyer wagon to make money for his mom during the Great Depression.

Hit by shrapnel while serving in Italy in World War II, he lost so much blood that everything started to turn dark.

“He told God, ‘If you spare my life, I will serve you till the day I die,’ ” said his son, Eddie McCann Jr.

After the war, Mr. McCann sold insurance, drove a taxi and worked as the chief stationary engineer for the Chicago Housing Authority, responsible for heating and cooling CHA buildings, according to his son. When he landed a job as a deputy sheriff at the Cook County courthouse in Markham, defendants — especially those who cycled through with regularity — asked him for advice.

Mr. McCann died Sept. 5 at Pine Crest Health Care in Hazel Crest. He was 91.

Born in 1924, he grew up in the Mississippi town of Battles, named after his mother’s family. His family had a farm on which they raised cattle and grew corn and cotton. He used to hunt rabbits with his father, Ollie McCann.

When he was 9, the McCanns moved to Chicago, where his mother, Martha Battles McCann, had sisters. They lived near 47th and Wabash and later 50th and Dearborn. He went to Farren grade school and DuSable High School.

His father died when he was 13.

“Because of all the common sense he had, his mother, even though she had older sons, made him the head of the house,” his son said. “Every decision that had to be made would come through him.”

When he was about 14, “The guys on the big [produce] wagons would give him bruised fruit” they were about to discard, said Eddie McCann Jr. “He sold it around 47th, and 51st and Dearborn — apples, oranges, bananas, pears.”

He acted as a supervisor and accountant for his brothers, who also sold the blemished fruits and vegetables.

“He always made sure they gave a certain amount to him, so he could give it to his mother to raise the children,” his son said.

After returning from his World War II service, Mr. McCann became a deacon and chairman of the board of trustees at St. Paul Church of God in Christ, headed by the influential Bishop Louis Henry Ford, a civil rights leader who rose to be presiding bishop and chief executive officer of the Pentecostal group, with millions of members.

Through the bishop, Mr. McCann met Cook County Board President John Stroger. During the week, he worked at his day job with the CHA. On weekends, he worked as a deputy sheriff. He wound up becoming an assistant chief at the courthouse.

The “repeat” arrestees would ask for him by name because “he treated people like he wanted to be treated,” his son said.

He married Minnie L. Persons in 1949. They raised their family near 80th and Peoria. She died of emphysema in 1980.

Though he retired at 65, he kept busy cooking for friends and for his church. Every Thanksgiving, people looked forward to eating his peppery greens, made with smoked turkey necks in a big pot he reserved for that purpose.

“They loved his chicken, they loved his barbecue, they loved his fish,” his son said.

Mr. McCann golfed at the Joe Louis course in Riverdale, bowled with an Ida B. Wells league and enjoyed trips to Florida, Las Vegas and California.

He is also survived by a daughter, Annette Wiggins; another son, Bernard; a brother, Arthur; a sister, Lee Ethel Franklin; and 11 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.