Veteran Lake County Board member Audrey Nixon dies

Audrey Nixon, who some considered the matriarch of the Lake County Board because of her decades of dedicated public service, has died.

Nixon, 81, was found dead in her North Chicago house Thursday morning, according to a news release from the county. There were no signs of foul play, officials said, and she had been in failing health.

Nixon was the longest-serving member on the board, having first been elected in 1982. Her 14th District includes neighborhoods in North Chicago, Park City, Waukegan, and Gurnee.

Although a Democrat and thus always in the minority party on the board, Nixon had been the longtime leader of the law and judicial committee, making her one of the few Democrats to retain a leadership post for any significant duration.

Nixon was known as a passionate representative for her district, which included some of Lake County's poorest neighborhoods. She fought to keep county buildings and offices in Waukegan and was a champion of the Greenbelt Cultural Center, a facility near North Chicago that was created and operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District - an agency she helped run as a forest district board member.

"She was a voice for compassion and understanding," said county board member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican. "She never wavered for a moment in her commitment to not only her district, but to all in the county that needed her help."

And yet, Nixon wasn't a my-way-or-the-highway politician. She often spoke of the need for consensus on complicated or controversial issues, for working together in pursuit of doing right by constituents.

"She wanted people to work together and she would remind you of that just about every chance she could," said Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat who leads the Lake County Democratic organization, was heartbroken by Nixon's passing. He recalled how she fought for funding for schools in her district, how she joined the fight years ago to keep the Great Lakes Naval Station open, and how proud she was to twice serve as a delegate for President Barack Obama.

Link also fondly remembered Nixon as a woman who wasn't afraid of a political scuffle.

"You weren't going to walk over her," he said. "She had no problem calling me and chewing me out if I needed chewing out about something."

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider mourned Nixon on his Facebook page Thursday.

"(The 10th House District) will miss Audrey's principled example and tireless energy fighting for the environment and opportunity for all our young people," wrote Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat.

Nixon's survivors include three children and 20 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

It'll be up to Lawlor to nominate Nixon's successor and for the county board to approve the appointment. Under the law, the post must go to a Democrat because Nixon was a Democrat.

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