County Workers Volunteer At Hospital To Honor Colleagues Who Died In 2003 Fire

CHICAGO (CBS) — Almost three dozen staff members of the Cook County Public Guardian’s office spent Wednesday night doing volunteer work to honor three colleagues who died in a fire 12 years ago.

Six people died in the fire at the George Dunne Cook County Office Building on Oct. 17, 2003, including three employees of the public guardian’s office.

“I remember meeting up with my boss later on that evening. He had gone to the morgue. It was really surreal,” said Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris. “Some work people become akin – much akin – to your family.”

In 2003, Harris was the office’s chief deputy. He was appointed to the top job the next year.

“I’ve been with the office almost 25 years. At that time, I’d been here well over a decade,” Harris said.

For several years after the fire at 69 W. Washington St., the staff held memorials for the three co-workers who died.

In 2007 – in tribute to Maureen McDonald, John Slater III, and Sara Chapman – the staff decided to do something different.

“Not for it to be a memorial every year, not for it to be a sad time, but to do something that was more forward-thinking; so that’s when we started doing the service projects,” Harris said.

Wednesday evening, they assembled activity packets for patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Harris said, even though many people in the guardian’s office now did not know McDonald, Slater, and Chapman, they are glad to take part in volunteer work each year in October to honor their memory.

“I think Sara and John and Maureen would appreciate that, too; that it doesn’t have to be just about them, but it’s about what we’re doing. It’s about doing something for others,” he said.

The others who died in the fire were clinical counselor Felice Lichaw, Forest Preserve attorney Janet Grant, and cleaning lady Teresa Zajac.

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