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Ald. JoAnn Thompson Dead: 'Englewood Has Lost a Tireless Advocate'

By  Josh McGhee and Andrea V. Watson | February 10, 2015 9:30am | Updated on February 10, 2015 12:13pm

 Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) speaks at an expo for ex-offenders in May.
Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) speaks at an expo for ex-offenders in May.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHICAGO — Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) died Monday at the age of 58, her office confirmed Tuesday morning.

"It is with heavy hearts that we confirm Alderman JoAnn Thompson passed away yesterday, surrounded by her family, friends, and lots of love from the greater Englewood community which she served with devotion to her final day," the office said in a news release.

Thompson, 58, suffered sudden heart failure "finally succumbing to a health battle that she fought with the same courage and grace for which she was known and loved throughout her wonderful life. Her family deeply appreciates the kindness and good wishes that have already come from all quarters of our wonderful city," the office said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel took time to thank Thompson for her tireless service to the city.

"Englewood has lost a tireless advocate, and Chicago has lost one of its dearest friends. Alderman Thompson made it her mission to bring jobs, economic empowerment and educational opportunities to every child and family in Englewood. Her caring spirit and constant smile made JoAnn someone who you wanted to be with, and her values defined what it means to build one future as one Chicago," Emanuel said.

Ald. JoAnn Thompson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel attend a news conference announcing the opening of a Whole Foods in Englewood. DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Thompson was born on the South Side and elected to the City Council on April 17, 2007. She began her second term in April 2011, according to her website.

Thompson focused on bringing sustainable economics to her ward, making grand strides last year by luring Whole Foods to Englewood Square, a five-acre retail development at 63rd and Halsted streets. The grocer is set to open in 2016 and hopes to bring new life to the struggling community.

"Ald. Thompson was key to the relationship between The Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation and Whole Foods. Her vision was to help as many small businesses from the community get their products on Whole Foods shelves. She had a vision to rebuild, rebrand and revitalize Englewood," said Glen Fulton, a spokesman for the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation.

According to her website, her career accomplishments included:

• Securing funds to allow Nicholson Elementary School students to take their first college tour

• Securing funds for new windows and a new playlot at Carson Elementary School

• Devoting $2.5 million for improvements at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School

• Initiating the renaming of Copernicus School in honor of Anna R. Langford, the first African-American female alderman

• Founding the ex-offender program REAP. (Restoring Elevating Advancing and Promoting)

• Writing over 8,000 tickets for abandoned homes and vacant lots and co-sponsoring "Lots-of-Change," a program that brought 2,100 college students to the area to clean up vacant lots.

• Establishing the first-ever 16th Ward Music Festival


Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) said CHA must ensure that transformed CHA housing units remain affordable. DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for City Clerk Susana Mendoza, said the clerk and Thompson were good friends. Thompson's death has left the office in shock, he said.

"She was a fighter and an advocate for her community, a wonderful partner with our office and she will be deeply missed," Corcoran said.

Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who was running against Thompson in the Feb. 24 election, offered her prayers and sympathy to Thompson's family Tuesday morning.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my colleague, Ald. Thompson. We worked together as members of the Black Caucus on many important policy initiatives since we were both elected in 2007," Foulkes said.

“I admired her fierce commitment to the constituents and communities of the 16th Ward," Foulkes said.

A nonprofit organization Thompson founded in 2007 now provides housing for ex-offenders at an Englewood facility. DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

Englewood resident Carolyn Smith-Whitehead, 77, said she became a fan of Thompson after meeting her at ward meetings and working with her on annual block parties in the 6600 block of South Justin Street.

"I liked her. She tried to do what she could for the neighborhood. This just shows that you never know when your time is up," she said.

Smith-Whitefield voted for Thompson each term and was planning to vote for her Tuesday when she saw news of her death "flash across the television screen," she said.

"This is a shock to me. This news is a very hard pill to swallow," she said.

Richard Wooten, a candidate for alderman of the 6th Ward, said he plans to offer a
prayer for Thompson at the Tuesday Bible study at Faith Walk International Church, 7656 S. Vincennes Ave., at 8:30 p.m.

"My heart is in sorrow as I offer my condolences to the Thompson family. The city has lost a woman who demonstrated love and compassion for the Englewood and Gage Park communities and the city of Chicago. Everyone who came into contact with her loved her because as a Christian she would always leave a lasting impression on you," Wooten said.

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