Cook County

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer dies at 51, family says

Deer underwent a double-lung transplant last year

Dr. Dennis Deer, who had served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners since 2017, has died at the age of 51, his family announced Monday.

Deer, who was appointed to his seat after the death of Robert Steele, is being remembered as a fierce advocate for working Chicagoans, putting in long hours even as he dealt with myriad health issues.

“Dr. Deer’s passionate lifelong dedication made him a tireless servant to the community in areas of healthcare, education, economic development, employment and training, re-entry and affordable housing,” his family said in a statement. “(His) greatest joy and pride were his family. He cherished his roles as husband to his high school sweetheart Barbara Deer and father to his twin sons Kaleb and Kanaan and daughter Trinity.”

The family has requested privacy following Deer’s death.

Deer was born with a condition called situs inversus, which leads to organs in the chest and abdomen being reversed. According to the Mayo Clinic, most individuals with the condition lead healthy lives, but if they require surgery on the lungs or other organs, it can present serious challenges.

After experiencing complications from a COVID-19 infection, Deer underwent a double lung transplant in the fall of 2023. After the surgery, he praised doctors and said they’d given him a new lease on life in his fight to encourage organ donation.

“That’s the kind of task God has kept me here for,” he said.

Deer’s political work focused primarily on issues of equity and improving healthcare and educational opportunities in his district, which covers wide swaths of Chicago, including parts of the Loop, the Near West and South Sides, and North Lawndale, among other areas.

“He was a fierce champion of equity in every space he entered. Dennis brought his intellect, wisdom, passion, advocacy and faith everywhere he went,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who served with Deer on the Board of Commissioners, described him as a “beacon of hope and compassion” after his death.

“The passing of my dear brother and former Cook County Board colleague Commissioner Dennis Deer is a devastating loss for our city and county,” he said. “Dennis was a beacon of hope and compassion who fulfilled a mission of improving healthcare, education and economic opportunities for every resident he served. A tireless advocate for the underserved and underrepresented, he was a champion for people, with an unwavering commitment and genuine love for a district that spanned the Loop, Englewood and the West Side of Chicago.”

Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton described Deer as a “dear friend” and praised him as a “selfless” public servant.

“Illinois has lost a true champion with the passing of my dear friend, Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer,” she said. “Dennis was the epitome of selfless service, dedicating his life to uplifting others and improving our neighborhoods. His genuine care and tireless efforts made a difference for people from all walks of life.”

Deer is survived by his wife and three children.  

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