KANKAKEE — George Washington Jr., a long-serving Kankakee County Board member and a man who possessed one of the region’s finest singing voices, died Wednesday following a long illness.
Washington was 81.
A resident of Kankakee’s Marycrest Subdivision on the city’s east side since 1972 and a Democratic Kankakee County Board member almost continuously since 1984, Washington was known for his basic principle of doing what was best for county residents. While the district number designation has changed over time, Washington district was largely the East Court Street region on the city’s eastern area.
Washington served on the county board from 1984 until 1986 when he resigned to take the position as Chief of Corrections for Kankakee County. However, after leaving the correction’s position, he returned to the county board in 1987 when he was reappointed to fill a board vacancy. He served on the board for the next 33 years, rising to the ranks of board vice chairman at one point.
Aside from his work and elected offices, Washington was well known for his booming, deep singing voice. He was often asked to sing at events and he never disappointed.
Washington moved from the Independence, La., area as a child and into the south Chicago area in 1953. He graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1957. He moved into the Pembroke Township region in the early 1960s. After a few years living in Sun River Terrance, he moved into Kankakee in 1972.
A father of five, Washington worked at several Kankakee area manufacturing locations before ending his work career at the Sears department store. Prior to Sears, he work at Gould Battery, Bungie Edible Oil, American Spring Wire and Johnson’s Ace Hardware.
He also served as director of Kankakee’s Buildings and Grounds, a part-time position, in the early 1990s.
Washington’s wife of 52 years, Shirley Mae, died on May 8 after an extended battle with cancer.
His son, Brandon, said his father had a genuine love for service.
“He was always very community minded. Always,” he said.
He also did not forget a name or face.
“He knew everyone and everything in Kankakee. He always talked to us about community. He instilled the value of making your community a better place. That was a constant message,” Brandon said. “He believed in lifting people up and making the community the best it could be.”
Former longtime Kankakee Alderman Steven Hunter, who represented the city’s east side on the Kankakee City Council, simply called Washington a statesman.
“He knew the issues and he was not afraid to reach across the aisle in an attempt to get things done. Whoever eventually takes this county board seat will have some very big shoes to fill. George Washington Jr. was an amazing guy,” Hunter said.
Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said Washington’s passing was difficult to process.
“Words don’t come easy for this. He was such a high-quality individual. The grace, the leadership, the calm, the insight and the presence he brought to the board were unmatched,” Wheeler said. “He was a man who was certainly better than most. He will be so missed.”
Washington was one of the original staff members of the Pembroke Township Community Action Program, which was the forerunner to the Kankakee Community Action Program. He also served on the Pembroke Consolidated School District board of education.