Benches Dedicated to Long-Time Morgan County Coroner

By Benjamin Cox on July 22, 2023 at 7:16am

A project to honor a former long-time coroner for Morgan County was dedicated on Friday morning.

Jeff Lair served as Morgan County’s coroner from 1984 until his retirement in 2019. Lair died in June 2021.

Current Morgan County Coroner and Lair’s deputy coroner Marcy Patterson says an idea to dedicate a permanent memorial to Lair came after a donation from a state organization: “Last year, the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association donated $1,000 in memory of Coroner Jeff Lair. We were trying to figure out the best way to use that money. Many of us thought it should be golf because Coroner Lair loved golf, but we didn’t want to limit who saw his name. During a conversation with John Green, the City of Jacksonville’s new Grounds Superintendent, he spoke about a piece of property that was between the municipal parking lot by the Amvets and the Bahan’s parking lot that had become overgrown. It was a sidewalk area. Together we came up with a plan to clean up that area and place two benches there in honor of Coroner Lair.”

Patterson says during the purchase of the benches and the improvements being made to the green space, they used up their $1,000 and asked the local Kiwanis for a donation to make up the difference. Lair was a Kiwanis member of over three decades at the time of his passing. Patterson says the space can now be used by the public as a nice shaded place to sit just off the downtown square.

She says it’s fitting that Lair’s legacy is still touching lives: “So when I was figuring out the number of years that Jeff served, he probably served between 12,000-15,000 families. As the coroner, you carry every family with you. They don’t go away. They are people that stay in your heart. So, I can’t imagine how heavy his heart must have been at the end of his career. He had gotten sick and he didn’t remember many of his years of service near the end of his life, but he was the best coroner the State of Illinois has ever seen. He loved his families and he served them, provided great help to the law enforcement agencies that he worked closely with in his investigations. Fifteen thousand families – I don’t know of very many people that can say they single-handedly impacted that many lives. That’s pretty powerful stuff.”

Approximately a dozen people gathered at the benches for coffee and donuts to honor Lair’s memory. Members of the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Police Department, LifeStar EMS, the Morgan County Commissioners, and past and present co-workers in the coroner’s office gathered to share a few brief memories. Patterson said during the quaint gathering that it would have been what Lair wanted, as he didn’t like to raise a fuss over himself.

Patterson says that Lair also mentored many throughout the state during his tenure as coroner. She says Lair’s wealth of knowledge in death investigations and inquests has also carried on a lasting legacy, with several of those Lair taught or mentored still serving in official capacities elsewhere.