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President Toni Preckwinkle helped commemorate the lives of 609 indigent persons and unborn babies buried by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office over the past year during an Interfaith Memorial Service hosted by the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.

The 27th annual observance was sponsored by the Memorial Ministry for Indigent Persons, founded by the late W. Earl Lewis in 1986 so that Chicagoans would have an opportunity to serve as a kind of surrogate family for those who died poor and alone. The service included a reading of the names of those buried over the 12 months, hymns sung by the First Light Acolytes Youth Choir, and devotional statements by representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslin faiths. The Reverend Phillip Blackwell, senior pastor at the church, officiated at the ceremony.

“The individuals we recognize today—we don’t know their stores, and we don’t know what brought them into our custody,” President Preckwinkle said during her keynote address. “But each was a member of our community. They had family and friends; they were daughters and sons, parents and grandparents. And today, while we may not have personally known them, we recognize them and honor them.”

She said for those who rely on the services of the Medical Examiner’s Office in their final hour of need, “we take very seriously this responsibility.” President Preckwinkle said the county has made “significant reforms within the Medical Examiner’s Office,” under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly and her Deputy Administrator Martha Martinez.

“We have reviewed and formalized policies, personnel practices and procedures to make sure the office is fully accountable to all our residents. We’ve already seen progress. The changes we’ve implemented in the Medical Examiner’s Office will mean that those who come into our care will be laid to rest as quickly as possible, and with the utmost respect and dignity.”

President Preckwinkle also vowed to continue keeping service to all citizens as the county’s first and foremost goal.

“On this day, we recommit ourselves to the core values of public service. We renew our commitment to serve all of our residents, regardless of race, religion, or economic background.”

President Preckwinkle thanked the religious leaders gathered at the ceremony and also the ministers who volunteer their services at each burial.


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