It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of our dear friend and colleague Barbara “Barb” Richardson. Barb came to Legal Aid Chicago as a General Civil Practitioner in 1990 after receiving her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Chicago and her law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. Barb was a Senior Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group who’d recently celebrated 30 years of service as a tireless advocate for justice. Her life was defined by fighting the good fight on behalf of those who could not fight for themselves. She served in the invaluable roles of utilities guru and bankruptcy specialist for our clients and internally devoted many years to the essential work of leading the Union Labor Works (ULW )and our Civil Rights Task Force. We will continue to honor Barb’s memory and are grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside such a kind and dedicated advocate.

Memories of Barbara Richardson:

“One of my favorite things about Barb was when you would approach her with a kind of impossible utilities case and ask if she could help and she would say, “I’ll see what I can do,” with a grin. Two days later she would email with results far beyond your expectations.  I kind of thought she had a magic button she pressed to get good results from utility companies. But when she was out on vacation,  and later,  medical leave, I learned it was not a magic button but rather the product of Barb’s relationships and reputation. Barb knew utility law, she was going to advocate intensely for her client and she wasn’t going anywhere, she was committed to this work.  Why not just give her the best result now? My respect for Barb grew when I returned from maternity leave this fall and experienced the difficulty of being a full time mom and a full time Legal Aid lawyer. Barb did this once with her daughter and then changed her entire schedule to be a huge part of her granddaughter’s life, a testament to her strength.  I get frustrated by the boys club that can be the Cook County Circuit Court, but I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to be a young, Black, female lawyer in the 1980s and 1990s (and still). Barb committed herself to an incredibly difficult job, in a system designed to daunt her, and she did it in service to others. I wish Barb’s family and loved ones peace and comfort as they grieve her loss. I will keep her memory as a model of strength and service. Thank you Barb.”

— Rachel Zemke

“In addition to her long-term role as attorney and senior attorney here, Barb was a long-term and energetic member of our union. Barb’s served continuously on the Executive Committee and was a past President of our unit. Barb also served on many past bargaining committees and routinely volunteered to handle many items to help our colleagues. If you ever encountered a social service provider, agency, or individual active in a community on the West Side of Chicago, you met someone that knew Barb. Several years ago, I attended the national conference for the NOLSW our parent union organization – U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was a guest speaker. As soon as I introduced myself, he immediately asked after Barb. Rep. Davis spoke highly of her hard work and extensive knowledge about poverty law issues. Barb was our go-to person for utility shut-off issues and her network of connections was unparalleled. Barb will be missed as a colleague, a client advocate, and a union member. Rest in peace, Barb.”

— Colleen A. Connolly

“I feel honored that over the past eight years I got to know and work with Barb , who was nearly a 30 year member of NOLSW 2320. I appreciated her leadership in the Union, her gusto and tenacity to ensure the rights of others. Her steadfast pursuit of justice not only for Union members but also those she represented on behalf of Legal Aid Chicago. On a personal note, not a single holiday passed without Barb sending me a holiday greeting via text or a call. Whether it be Mother’s Day or Christmas Day , she made certain to let me know she valued me as a human. I thank her for the kindness she showed me. Rest in Power Barb. Solidarity Forever .”

— Laura Hebert 

“I am trying to find the right words to express myself about Barbara. She was a great attorney and awesome representative of all of us at the union. She always did her best for her clients. I am so sad. We lost a person with a great heart. She will be forever remembered.”

— Pedro Gaytan

“Barb was such a beautiful woman inside and out. She will be greatly missed. I can’t believe it. I saw her sometime in the Spring while shopping and we gave each other such a big hug like if we hadn’t seen each other in years (well it felt like that since COVID). We talked a little about family and work and how we missed being in the office with everyone like old times. Wow, I never imagined that would be the last time I would see her. Barbara was always open to helping anyway she can or always had the right resources, she knew everyone and everyone loved her. Her office was not too far from my work station and every time I was in the office and she was in her space we would happily greet each other with a hug. She was such a kind spirited person. May she rest in peace with all the Angels as she was one too!”

— Justine J. Rodriguez

“A very sad moment. Such a tireless advocate for those in need, the only thing matching her tireless work was her capacity for compassion to help others. I will miss her being in her office already working when I arrive at 7:30. You will be missed Barb.”

— David Waters

“This is heartbreaking news. I’m so saddened to hear this. Barb was such a legal aid fixture it really is hard to imagine the agency without her. I’m so lucky to have worked with her. She was a special person, and she helped countless people. I especially loved working with her on the “extra” things like the Westside potlucks, and Black History Month Celebrations. She will be really missed. “

— Alice Setrini 

“This is such sad news. It’s hard to imagine. Barbara was such a tireless advocate. On the day she began her medical leave, I had been emailing with her as she tried to assist one of her clients in obtaining LIHEAP. I recall that she literally drove to the client’s house to help with paperwork before she headed off to the doctor. Talk about a tireless advocate! And such a kind and gentle soul — always closing her emails with wishes for good health to whomever she was writing. I know we will all miss her.”

— Karen Lusson

“Having started at the office during the COVID-19 pandemic, I never had the opportunity to meet Barb. Given her position as the expert on energy assistance programs available to our clients, however, I had the pleasure of emailing back and forth with her several times to figure out how my clients could obtain assistance. Throughout our interactions, Barb was unfailingly patient and constructive, connecting me with agencies and explaining how best to advocate for our clients. She also never forgot to make sure my family and I were doing well. After imposing on Barb several times, I had a client this spring who was being evicted for failing to maintain her utility service. I copied Barb on an email to CEDA, as I had done several times before. This time, CEDA told me they had no further funding. Without waiting for me, Barb immediately sprang into action, looping in People’s Gas and then Illinois energy officials. Through her persistence and expertise, Barb managed to find a pot of money that restored our client’s utilities and saved her housing. Barb did all of this in just a few days, without my ever having to ask her for help–she just knew what had to be done and fearlessly forged ahead. What for me was going above and beyond for a client in need (and a green colleague) was just another day in the office for Barb. Even though I never saw her in person, I know Barb will be deeply missed around the office. I’m touched by everyone’s stories about her, which confirm what I saw over email. My thoughts are with her family, friends, and everyone lucky enough to have known her better than me.”

— Nathan Nash 

“Barb started at the West Side Office almost one year before I got there in 1990. Barb’s daughter, Tobara, was about 4 at the time. Barb brought her to work a lot and she would always ask me to throw her up on my shoulders and run around the office (Tobara, not Barb). Tobara eventually followed her mother’s path by attending law school. She subsequently served as an ASA and AUSA before becoming a solo practitioner. I left the West Side in 1997–a few years after we moved to a larger and better maintained office in the old Sears Building–but Barb stayed on until the office closed as part of Legal Aid Chicago’s centralization process. I didn’t see Barb that often in the past 25 years, but whenever we ran into each other she would greet me by saying “legalaidlawyerlarrywood!” really fast — a reference to an old client of mine who once burst into the West Side Office shouting, “Where’smylegalaidlawyerlarrywood Ineedmylegalaidlawyerlarrywood!” Barb was a dedicated advocate, a constant resource for information and advice about utility issues, and a protective and loving mother. Nothing more to say. I’m just sorry Barb’s gone.”

— Larry Wood

“Such sad, sad, news. She started 6 months after me and was part of a large and eager new legal aid lawyer class so many years ago. I always think of Barb at the West side office — a quiet but fierce presence — so dedicated to her clients, her church and her daughter. But mostly, I see her 1000 watt smile. I will miss that the most.”

— David Haracz

“I returned from Barb’s church after expressing my condolences to her daughter Tobara. I am trying to wrap my mind around what 30 years of service means. How many babies were kept warm? How many meals cooked? How many cold nights avoided for the elderly and disabled? Barb was truly tireless in plying the tools of her trade. According to Tobara, she was working on her cases up until she Tobara made her go to the hospital. I will miss Barb’s unique perspective. At CAM, Barb would often chime in to agree with a specific approach and then propose another angle or share a different experience to solve the issue at hand. Barb was such a proud mom and grandmother. You could hear it in her voice and see it in her smile every time she spoke of her daughter and granddaughter. May her memory be for a blessing. In Judaism, this is what you say about someone who has passed, because we are blessed to carry on their legacy. This is especially true for Barb who has blessed so many.”

— Ainat Margalit