Former Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton, 94, giggled and waved to an adoring crowd as she waited for city officials to unveil her portrait at the civic center Monday.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asked Evanston artist Richard Halstead to paint Morton’s portrait in commemoration of her 16 years of service to the community as mayor from 1993 to 2009. Morton made history as the city’s first black mayor and served as fifth ward alderman for nine years before she was elected mayor. When she retired, the city renamed the civic center as the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in her honor.
Halstead, who donated his time and the painting to the city, said he was inspired by Morton’s warmth and vitality.
“For years I prided myself on having a particularly unique relationship with Mayor Morton,” he said. “Until one day, it occurred to me that half of the people in Evanston considered themselves a close, personal friend of Mayor Morton.”
He said he hoped the portrait would remind viewers of two ideals he believed Morton had strived for as mayor.
“Number one is the need for building bridges between people who have diverse needs and interests,” he said. “Number two is the need for civility in that process.”
As Halstead pulled up the drapes covering the painting to reveal a portrait of Morton, smiling in an orange jacket with her arms folded across her chest, Morton called out, “Woooo!” and “Oh my goodness!”
Looking out at the crowd packed into the council chambers, Morton said she was thankful for everyone who had helped her in one way or another over her long political career.
“It was so nice, too, to see so many people here who have given good counsel,” she said. “I am truly, truly grateful for this.”
“When you get my age and you have something like this happening to you, how many folk have this?” she added. “This could have happened after I was dead, but it’s happening now.”
Morton’s daughter, Elizabeth M. Brasher, and two granddaughters, Elizabeth K. and Candace, were present to see the unveiling, among many other friends and supporters.
“She’s always going. She still keeps a calendar,” said Brasher. “To be here to experience this, to have this happen while she’s here is a wonderful thing,”
Granddaughter Elizabeth K. Brasher said growing up with their grandmother as mayor, she and her sister felt like they’d been in politics themselves.
“She kind of made me want to be of service,” she said. “I’m so happy that she’s here to see it.”