A horse-drawn funeral carriage carries the body of former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore after his funeral services, held at the Second Baptist Church in Maywood, on Saturday. Moore, pictured below in his county office in 2008, died Tuesday at 73. | Below image: Kuni Takahasi/Chicago Tribune.
A horse and carriage waited to receive the ivory white coffin of Eugene “Gene” Moore after the well-known politician’s Saturday funeral service, held at Second Baptist Church, 436 S. 13th Ave. in Maywood, where Moore was a longtime member.
To many of the more than 1,200 mourners who packed the church’s large sanctuary and basement overflow, the royal sendoff was the only one appropriate for a man the Rev. Marvin E. Wiley, pastor of Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood, described as royalty.
If Moore, who died on Tuesday from prostate cancer, was a local political king, he was also a kingmaker; spawning the careers of a council chamber-full of young up-and-comers who have settled into mature political careers of their own.
State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th), who called Moore her “political godfather,” said he “saw something in me that I didn’t know I had in myself.”
Moore encouraged Lightford, who was in graduate school at the time, to run for trustee in Maywood. It would be the start of a political career that’s spanned more than two decades. Lightford held up her own story as testimony of Moore’s penchant for identifying talent, before naming other political leaders who were influenced by Moore.
They include state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), former Proviso Township High School District 209 Board President Theresa Kelly and sitting Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon — all of whom were in attendance.
“I wouldn’t be county commissioner or anything if it weren’t for Gene Moore and the people of Proviso Township,” said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st).
A native son
But before he was a local political heavyweight, he was the son of Sara Ella Burrell and Joseph Moore, born on July 19, 1942 in Baltzer, Mississippi. The family migrated to Maywood when Moore was still a boy. He enrolled in Washington Elementary School and was baptized at Second Baptist Church.
At his beloved Proviso East High School, he was athletic enough to earn a football scholarship to Otero College in La Junta, Colorado. An injury, however, would send him back to Maywood early. According to a close cousin, the homecoming may not have been as mandatory as it seemed.
“According to his cousin T.J., injuries might have been part of it, but basically it was all homesickness,” said his cousin Curtis Montgomery. “He wanted to get back to girl he left behind and who he’d eventually marry.”
Moore found work at the American Can Company in Maywood before eventually establishing a solid clientele with Metropolitan Life Insurance.
“He had lots of clients and one of the reasons he had so many was because of his personality and his professionalism,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) in an interview on Friday. Davis said Moore solicited the first major contribution he received when he ran for Congress in 1996.
“When he was in insurance, Gene was a consumer-oriented person in terms of supporting consumer’s interests, even though he worked for a corporation,” Davis said.
Moore first delved into politics in the 1980s, when he ran, unsuccessfully, for a trustee seat in Maywood. Montgomery, who volunteered on that first campaign, said his cousin’s work ethic, even then, was exhaustive.
“He was a hard worker,” Montgomery recalled. “I’d say, ‘Gene, we just did this last week, we have to do it again?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, Curtis, we got to do it again. You have to keep pounding until you get it in their heads.’”
Moore’s message stuck in his 1988 campaign for a seat on the Proviso Township Board of Trustees, a position that would provide a path to Springfield. In 1992, he saw an opening when the boundaries of the 7th District were redrawn.
“When the area was redistricted so that African-Americans could elect a black state representative for the Proviso area, I immediately supported Gene Moore,” said Davis, who was a Cook County commissioner at the time, “even though there were people in Chicago who wanted to run.”
Emboldened by his connections and his work ethic, Moore won, becoming the first African-American to represent the state’s 7th Legislative District. Although his ambitions and talents would take him to Springfield, his heart didn’t stray too far from Maywood, relatives said.
‘A politician’s politician’
Eugene Moore, far left, with Larry Rogers, Jr., Sen. Barack Obama and Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. | wardheeler.org
Before taking his seat in the state legislature, he charged Montgomery with taking care of his mother Sarah while he was away — it was just one signal of familial devotion that would stay with Moore throughout his life, despite the energy and time devoted to politics.
During his eulogy of Moore on Saturday, Dr. Eric King — a longtime education administrator who was with Moore in his final days — recited the words of some of Moore’s family members, including his son Eric.
“My pops is my everything,” King recalled Eric saying. “He’s my hero. He’s greater than Walter Payton or Michael Jordan or Ali. My pops — he’s the greatest. He taught me to discipline myself, how to accept criticism and how to be on time.”
Despite his busy political career, Moore also raised his granddaughter, Cheyenne, and her brother, Chase, as if they were his own children.
“My father passed away at 11 and my grandfather stayed by my side,” Cheyenne told King, who also recalled the words of Moore’s grandson.
“I am what I am because of what my granddad taught me,” King said, channeling Chase, who noted that, while he played football at Proviso East and during college, Moore was a constant bleacher presence.
“Figuratively speaking, I was attached to his hip,” King recalled Chase saying. “I am a walking image of my granddaddy. He played the role of father, mother, guardian — everything. Even down to the suit I wear, I owe to him.”
In 1999, Moore was tapped by Cook County Democratic heavyweights like John Stroger, Jr. and John Daley to finish out Jesse White’s term as Cook County Recorder of Deeds after White was elected Illinois Secretary of State.
Moore would stay in the position for more than a decade, using his perch atop the county’s records office to overhaul its efforts to combat property fraud and theft. He also modernized the office’s data-collecting and data-processing capabilities.
But the most lasting aspect of Moore’s political legacy, the many hundreds gathered Saturday said in different ways, was his heart for putting them ahead of himself.
“He helped the homeless become homeowners, he helped so many people realize their athletic dreams, to accomplish their higher education aspirations and achieve their career goals,” King said.
When, in a physical display of Moore’s influence, King asked former Proviso East athletes and students, and former and present Maywood residents, to stand, the entire sanctuary of mourners rose to their feet.
“Gene was always willing to put the needs of others before himself and building lifelong relationships,” King said.
Jonette Greenhow, a Maywood employee, said Moore gave her one of her first jobs — not in politics, but in a beauty salon washing heads; although one of Moore’s campaigns, she recalled, would be the first one on which she volunteered.
Montgomery recalled a waitress who, after the end of one of Moore’s campaign events, was weeping in a corner.
“Gene came over to her and asked her what was wrong,” Montgomery said. “She told him that she had worked all night long and had lost all her tips. She didn’t know whether the money was stolen or on the floor. So, Eugene, being the person he is, asked her how much she lost and she told him. And he gave her a $100 bill to replace the lost tips.”
King, channeling another of Moore’s cousins, Maywood resident Loretta Robinson, said, “Gene was a politician’s politician. What’s that? Loretta said, ‘When he’s not running for office someone else might be running and he’s working for them.’”
Moore, the man
Many mourners also recalled the man who was more than the politician — a dresser whose sartorial sense was passed on from his father Joe.
Moore, who many also called “Geno” or “Gene,” was fond of straw fedoras — some of which, Montgomery said, he got straight from Panama — and suits that were patterned and well-pressed.
Besides politics, Moore’s chief passion was dancing.
“You all know Geno. He was suave and he loved to get his step on,” said Lightford, who recalled the many West Side steppers’ sets to which she accompanied Moore. That willingness to mingle and mix it up “on the ground,” Lightford said, was what endeared him to his constituents.
It was also what fueled a political career that, years after Moore retired, is still remembered with respect even by his erstwhile political rivals.
Karen Yarbrough, who succeeded Moore as 7th District State Representative, Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman and Cook County Recorder of Deeds — the latter two positions she currently holds — remembered Moore as a “very well-known and well-liked community person.”
In 2006, Yarbrough defeated Moore in the race for Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman. In a written statement, she said, “While many felt we were enemies, I’d rather think we both were very competitive along with having divergent points of view.”
“We were blessed that he was able to visit the [Cook County Recorder’s] office recently to see our history mural and to connect once more with the many friends he had, and still has, in this office,” Yarbrough said. “I am thankful to have been able to honor him and his public service in that way.”
During remarks Saturday, Rev. Wiley recalled his last conversation with Moore as the beloved politician lay dying.
“June 14, 2016, I made my way to Gene’s bedside,” Wiley said. “I didn’t want to go, because I’d heard what condition he was in; but I made my way, anyway. For these last 25 years, I’ve called him not Eugene, but Uncle New-gene. I said to him, as he lay there, ‘Man, they’ll never forget you. You’ve done too much.’ I went to college, but I said to him, ‘We ain’t gone never forget you,’” Wiley recalled, before referencing a Biblical passage from II Samuel.
“A prince has died,” he said. “A great man has died.” VFP
Moore leaves to cherish his memories: his children DaWanna (Omar), Natalie and Eric Moore; siblings Barbara (Michael), Anise, Freddie and Michael (Deborah); six grandchildren: Johnnie, Chase, Jelissa, Darius, Jenise and Cheyenne; four great-grandchildren: NeVaehiza, Nyla, Marquise and Nylin; and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews, family and friends.
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