Artis Yancey, one of Lake County's more recognizable public figures, was laid to rest Tuesday after a stirring funeral service filled with tears for his passing and joy for his contributions.
The longtime Waukegan police officer who ascended the ranks to lead the department as chief and later served as Lake County coroner and Waukegan city clerk was remembered as a humble and quiet "pillar of the community" with an infectious smile.
"This man," Pastor Gerald Wilcoxon said, his voice punctuating those two words and rising for emphasis during the eulogy, "held true to the model 'To Serve and Protect.'
"Whether you liked him or not, you had to respect him because he walked with respectability," he added.
About 700 police officers, fire officials, family and friends, local politicians, community leaders and other mourners filled Mt. Sinai Institutional Baptist Church in North Chicago for a nearly three-hour service that alternately celebrated Yancey's accomplishments and grieved his sudden death last week at age 54.
"He was a very humble man, a very caring man. He was a man well loved, well respected," Wilcoxon said before the service.
He said he considered Yancey a close friend. "He was the kind of man you never had to catch up with -- you continued where you started," Wilcoxon added.
The memorable service featured impassioned deliveries of scripture, prayer and song, heartfelt and emotional testimonials, spirited messages of faith and hope, appreciative applause and even some laughter. Yancey also received several proclamations for his contributions, and Waukegan Township announced plans to rename its annual college tour in Yancey's honor.
"It's a sad but joyous occasion," Wilcoxon said to open the service. "It's sad because we lost one we love, but joyous because the best is yet to come."
Yancey served 21 years with the Waukegan police department in various roles, including community police officer, supervisor of the detective bureau, deputy chief and chief before retiring in 2010. He was appointed Lake County coroner in late 2012. He lost the Democratic primary race for that seat, but in April 2013 was elected city clerk in the town where he grew up. Several who spoke recalled Yancey's soft-spoken nature and described him as a mentor or father figure.
"Artis was a warrior for righteousness," said Anita Hanna, president of the Waukegan Unit District 60 school board.
A tearful Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley, who worked with Yancey for decades, described him as a gracious gentleman of character and class.
Circuit Court Judge George Bridges brought laughter from the congregation with his comment on the book of life as mentioned in scripture.
"The angel who recorded the names has retired and God needed another clerk," he said. "He (Yancey) never tired of standing up and saying, 'I can help.'"
Survivors include his wife, four children, a stepdaughter, brother and three sisters. Donations can be made in his memory to the American Heart Association, 208 S. LaSalle St., Chicago, 61301 and/or the American Cancer Society, 100 Tri-State International, Suite 125, Lincolnshire, 60069.