KENWOOD — Nearly a year after her death, friends, family and colleagues of former 4th Ward Ald. Shirley Newsome gathered near her home on a crisp fall day to unveil a street sign bearing her name.
Shirley J. Newsome Way now graces the 4100 block of South Lake Park Avenue in honor of the longtime civil servant, who died in December at 77.
Current 4th Ward Ald. Lamont Robinson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined Commissioner Bill Lowry and Newsome’s granddaughter Naquitta Dent for the street dedication Saturday.
Newsome was well known for her candor and her community building, some referring to her as the unofficial “mayor of the city.” She wore a number of hats throughout her career, from the various positions she held within the federal judiciary to her brief stint as alderwoman in 2011, stepping in for Preckwinkle as the latter assumed her new role as head of the Cook County Board.
Newsome’s advocacy on behalf of the Kenwood-Oakland community was impactful, with many crediting her efforts to cut down blight and transform the neighborhood into a peaceful residential enclave as head of the North Kenwood-Oakland Conservation Community Council in the early ’90s.
She was also behind the push to expand the University of Chicago Police Department’s patrol area, which gave residents more public safety resources. Newsome was later appointed to the Chicago Community Development Commission and chaired both the South East Chicago Commission and the Quad Communities Development Corporation.
Robinson recalled meeting Newsome as a young business owner new to the community, noting that North Kenwood-Oakland’s revitalization was the result of her tireless work.
“I served on the QCDC board with Shirley. As we look around and think about the beautiful 4th Ward and all the development, we owe that to her. The seeds that Shirley and Toni planted 20-plus years ago have finally come to fruition, and I look forward to working with Alds. [Pat] Dowell and [Monique] Scott to not only plant seeds in the 4th Ward but across the city,” Robinson said.
Remarks made by Scott, Dowell, Lowry and Rhonda McFarland of the Quad Communities Development Corporation echoed Robinson’s. The community leaders painted a picture of a fearless, passionate woman who spoke her mind and never wavered from the prime objective. Her dining room table often served as a community hub and sounding board for neighbors and elected alike.
Lowry recounted his initial encounter with Newsome as a young attorney eager to move into the neighborhood with his wife and three young children. She was thrilled to have him and his wife — a dentist — as new neighbors, Lowry said.
When Lowry decided to throw his hat in the ring to succeed Cook County Board Commissioner Jerry “Iceman” Butler in 2017, he sought Newsome’s counsel.
“She told me she was excited to hear that. She said, ‘I’m going to tell you three things: one, don’t dress like a lawyer. Second, don’t talk like a lawyer. And third, I want to see your stump speech.’ Shirley was a teacher. If she said to do something, you did it,” Lowry said.
He gave Newsome a copy of his speech. She disappeared and then reappeared, the paper riddled with red ink. When it was all said and done, it wasn’t just a stump speech, but the right stump speech, Lowry said.
But it was Preckwinkle’s remembrances of her dear friend that struck a chord with the audience. She and Newsome formed a bond in the ’80s as she attempted to unseat former Ald. Timothy Evans on the City Council, a seat she eventually won in 1991.
Preckwinkle said Newsome was a valuable partner during her 19 years as 4th Ward steward. As chair of the North Kenwood-Oakland Conservation Community Council, Newsome had a say about parks and schools, helping set the vision for the community. There were only a “handful of times” she went against the council’s recommendations, which was a reflection of her faith in Newsome’s leadership, Preckwinkle said.
“One of the things my grandmother told me is that the hardest part of getting older is your friends passing away. When I was a kid, I remembered what she said but remembering isn’t the same as understanding. Shirley was my friend. … I’m deeply grateful for her,” Preckwinkle said.
Newsome’s granddaughter clutched her young son as she spoke to the crowd, touched by the outpouring of love from those gathered to honor her late grandmother.
“Legacy is about something that will outlast all of us, and that is exactly what my grandmother did,” Dent said.
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