Former Cook County sheriff, judge Richard J. Elrod dies

After Cook County sheriff and judge Richard J. Elrod was paralyzed, doctors thought he might never leave the hospital. 

But Elrod "excelled" at everything he did, according to longtime friend and fellow Chicago Jewish colleague, former State Sen. Howard W. Carroll, and Elrod's accident was no exception. "All the time he was in office, he would never know that he was really disabled," Carroll said. "He had a way of making sunshine from darkness." 

Elrod, 80, died on April 19 in his Lincolnwood home from complications of liver cancer.  He served four terms as Cook County sheriff and more than 25 years as a Circuit Court judge. 

The son of a West Side Democratic committeeman, Elrod was born in 1934 in Chicago. He graduated from Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga. He earned both his undergraduate and law degree from Northwestern University, where he also played guard on the football team. While at Northwestern, he met his future wife, Marilyn Mann, who he was married to for 58 years.

While working as a chief city prosecutor in 1969, Elrod's life changed forever when he broke his neck and was paralyzed during an altercation with a protester during Chicago's "Days of Rage" demonstrations, organized by the radical Weatherman faction. At first, he was unable to move any body part below his neck, but over time became a quadriparetic instead of a quadriplegic, regaining limited feeling in his limbs. 

Only two months after his accident, Cook County Democrats, under Mayor Richard J. Daley's tenure, selected him to run for sheriff, until 1986. Then, he took a job as senior assistant attorney general, until the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Elrod to serve as a Cook County Circuit judge in 1988, a job he held for 25 years. 

Elrod had the best record in the county for settling cases, according to Carroll, and "had a reputation for trying to help people solve their problems and work things out."

Elrod also cared about the Chicago Jewish community, and was a longtime giver to the Jewish United Fund. "For two decades, Dick Elrod was the Jewish community's highest profile State of Illinois government elected leader," said Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, JUF/JF President. "The 1969 accident would have stopped most from achieving all they can, but not Dick Elrod. I never heard him complain; I never saw him inappropriately use his power. He understood Jewish political issues backward and forward...He was committed to public service, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people." 

In his private life, he was a family man. One of his proudest moments, according to Carroll, was taking the stage last spring at his grandson's Northwestern law school graduation, alongside his son and grandson, three generations of Northwestern law school grads. 

Elrod is survived by his wife of 58 years, Marilyn; a son, Steven Elrod; daughter, Audrey Lakin; and four grandchildren. A packed memorial service took place at Am Shalom in Glencoe. He was a Golden Giver member of the Jewish United Fund.

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