Karen Yarbrough, Pioneering Cook County Clerk and Politician, Dies at 73

Karen Yarbrough, the first African American and woman to serve as Cook County Clerk, died on Sunday at the age of 73. 

According to ABC 7 Chicago, Yarbrough was hospitalized in critical condition with an undisclosed illness. 

Karen Yarbrough, a dedicated Democrat, served as the Cook County Clerk from 2018 until her recent passing. Her term was set to end on December 1, 2026. She was re-elected in the general election on November 8, 2022, after a successful tenure representing District 7 as a Democratic member in the Illinois House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, including a stint as assistant majority leader from 2011 to 2012.

Outside of her political career, Yarbrough was a woman of many accomplishments. She was the founder and CEO of Hathaway Insurance Agency Incorporated. She was also a scholar, holding a B.A. in business management from Chicago State University, an M.A. in inner city studies from Northeastern Illinois University, and an M.A. in advanced leadership studies from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Having also served as a long-time Illinois state representative and the county recorder of deeds, Yarbrough’s responsibilities as Cook County Clerk included overseeing all election functions, from voter registration to ballot counting and result certification. The office’s operations were under the direction of Chief Deputy Clerk Cedric Giles.

“We have lost one of the brightest lights in the public service arena in Cook County and the State of Illinois, and we will never be quite the same,” Giles said in a statement on Sunday. “Clerk Yarbrough brought a unique spirit, energy, and compassion to her role in public service, and she used those gifts to bring out the best in all of us. She will be missed beyond measure.”

A statement issued by Yarbrough’s family read, “Karen Yarbrough was a wife, mother, sister, aunt and mentor to everyone who met her. So many of us stand on her shoulders and are actively walking pathways that she forged. As a public servant, she had the courage to stand in support of issues that were not always popular, but she knew them to be right.

She was a champion of women’s rights and a defender of the underprivileged and she touched so many people’s lives for the better. Proud is too small a word for what it means to have someone like her as part of our family.”

Yarbrough leaves behind a husband and six children. 




Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation (ILBCF) statement on Karen Yarbrough’s passing:

Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s previous contributions to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus could never be measured by just the six terms of office in which she served as State Representative, but moreover the full content of her overall journey as a woman of history, distinction, and influence.

Clerk Yarbrough ‘s role as the former Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois House of Representatives propelled her to successfully pass legislation that has had lasting impacts on communities of color throughout the state of Illinois. In addition, she was the foremost leader in advancing women’s initiatives including issues of choice, orientation, and civil liberties. Moreover, Clerk Yarbrough loved serving in her past role as a key member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus as well as the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. She had served as the ILBC Treasurer for many years.

For many, Yarbrough’s most impressive accomplishment was her relentless pursuit of continued inclusion within the Cook County Democratic Party. She served in many capacities within the party and always advocated for women of color to be endorsed by the party for countywide and judicial offices. She never surrendered her no nonsense approach to diversity, inclusion, and fairness at every level of government and politics.

The Full Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation extends its deepest sympathy, prayers and condolences to the entire family, friends, and supporters of our beloved leader. We will continue to carry the torch which Karen Yarbrough courageously and successfully held with passion, excellence, and grace.

The Full Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

Full Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation

Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons–ILBC Joint Chairwoman

Former Illinois State Representative Paul Williams—ILBCF Chairperson

Tiffany D. Hightower–ILBCF Executive Director


Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s statement on Karen Yarbrough’s passing:

On behalf of the City of Chicago, I am sending my heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. As the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position of County Clerk, she was both a pioneer and a tireless legislator, committed to social and economic justice throughout decades of public service. Her passion for ensuring that communities experience the full support of their governing bodies and benefit from the fruits of our democracy will truly be missed, as will her radiant smile.

Karen Yarbrough forged a path for officials like myself and many others, and my administration is keeping her memory and her family in our hearts during this difficult time.



ABC 7 Chicago contributed to this report. 



About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content