A Tribute to Robert G. (Bob) Kirchner

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Bob Kirchner, only 54 years old, died of a heart attack on the morning of Sunday, April 17. Bob was a local attorney who defended many who had no resources; he helped and legally supported many local non-profits, including CCHCC; he served on the County Board and the County Board of Health; and did much more. Bob was a true champion of justice for people and for the organizations who fight for justice for the people.
Our deepest sympathies go to Bob’s wife Gerri Kirchner, with whom he had a great and beautiful partnership and to whom he was utterly devoted. Our sympathies also go to Ruth Wyman, our dear friend and the young attorney with whom Bob worked for many years.
I first met Bob in 1999, when I was a scared and very green “Interim Director” at CCHCC. He had agreed to help CCHCC, pro bono, in a legal struggle against Provena Covenant when the hospital ended the Medicare 100/Plus Program. (Please note that CCHCC now has a very positive working relationship with Provena Covenant, and the Medicare 100/Plus Program was reinstated in 2005.)
The struggle with Provena Covenant was very nasty and I was clearly out of my league. One day, I received a very intimidating package from the then-IL Attorney General’s office. It was a set of “interrogatories” demanding that I produce a bunch of documents and answer a bunch of questions that clearly implied that CCHCC was undertaking fraudulent and illegal activities in the efforts to reinstate Medicare 100/Plus. The letter basically said that we were lying to seniors about the program and trying to coerce, under false pretenses, their involvement in the program. It also said that the IL AG’s office could bill CCHCC for the costs of their investigation into us! An action like this could have sunk CCHCC financially, and the threat was very real. The first person I called was Bob. He was calm, of course, and I felt the tiniest bit reassured. I was a very new Director and I didn’t want CCHCC to fail on my watch, and certainly not for something so unfair.
Bob set up a meeting with staff of the AG’s office with my collegue Mike Doyle and myself. We traveled to Chicago for the meeting. It was terrifying, and I could see
from the cold blank stares of the AG’s staff that it was not really going well. I didn’t understand where the AG’s office got the idea that CCHCC was defrauding consumers, and when I tried to ask about this, we got no answer.
Then, out of nowhere, Bob said, in his very calm and soft voice, that he knew that high-ups from Provena had met with staff from the AG’s office, and he gave the dates and times of the meetings—and he looked at each one as he said “they met with you, and you, and you, and you…”—and he went on to say that the AG’s office seemed to be subverting their legal and ethical duties in order to do the bidding of a corporation.
Stunned silence! …followed by awkward throat clearing noises and furtive glances between the AG’s staff.
I sat there knowing that Bob had just dropped a bombshell that was going to turn everything around. What the AG’s office was doing was illegal and wrong, and
they were busted! Bob had this information up his sleeve, from who knows where. He was never one to brag or talk unnecessarily.
In that moment, I felt that I and CCHCC had been rescued from the forces of corruption, and Bob became my first personal hero.
In less than a week, CCHCC got a letter from the AG’s office saying that they were dropping their investigation and thanking
us for satisfying their interrogatories.
That’s just one of many stories. But it’s the one where I learned that I could totally and completely count on Bob, and that he would fight with all he had in the pursuit of justice. Not only was Bob my personal hero, but I knew that he was a champion, the likes of which I’d never known. I never imagined that he wouldn’t be here.
Beyond helping us with the Medicare 100/Plus Program, Bob was a champion for low-income children while he served on the County Board and the County Board of
Health. On Bob’s watch, we (CCHCC, Bill Mueller, working with public health advocates on the Board of Health—Michele Spading, Karen Bojda, Jan Thom and others) were able to create the child dental access program to provide free dental care to low-income county children. Believe it or not, we had to fight year after year to
keep that program alive—there were opponents to the program! And year after year, Bob championed that good fight.
Over time, that program grew and led to the creation of the now well-established non-profit, SmileHealthy, where Nancy Greenwalt is the Executive Director.
I don’t know how many suffering low-income clients I brought to Bob to help with some legal issue or another where I would offer to pay for their consultation or
they would offer to make payments as they were able. Bob always helped my clients, and me too, pro bono. One time I asked Bob why he wouldn’t let me pay him for legal services he provided to me and he said that it was because I was always helping others—as if somehow there was a community debt and that community debt was borne by him and it was up to him to repay it—as if he himself wasn’t also always helping others.
I marvel when I think of how generous Bob was with his time, energy, intellect, resources—and that at the core of it all was his heart:his deep and abiding love for
people, his love for justice, and his outrage at injustice and corruption and the devastation that those produce.
In 2005, because of Bob’s tenacious, principled and dedicated work on behalf of CCHCC, we established the Robert G. Kirchner Legal Justice Award.
We at CCHCC mourn the death of Bob Kirchner, a great and steady champion for justice, a champion for the people, and our beloved friend. We wish to honor and celebrate Bob’s life and his accomplishments by working to protect the valuable programs in our community that Bob helped to create, helped to save, and helped to maintain.
With deepest sympathies to all who mourn for Bob Kirchner. (The above is an abbreviated version of a full tribute that can be seen at www.healthcareconsumers.org/)
The staff of the Public i joins with Claudia in mourning the loss of Bob Kirchner who fought so tenaciously for justice, within the courts and on the County Board, for the most vulnerable in our community.We extend our condolences to his family and his legal associate, Ruth Wyman.

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