Lake Councilman Lay remembered for dedication to family, public – Chicago Tribune

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Long-time Gary attorney and current Lake County Councilman Clorius Lay was remembered Monday by family, friends and colleagues Monday as a brilliant lawyer, dedicated politician and devoted family man after his unexpected death.

Cloe Lay of Gary confirmed Monday her father died unexpectedly early Monday morning.

“Right now, it’s kind of unreal. He was a great man. He was just loved very, very much. He loved his community. He loved his family. It’s a huge loss for us,” Cloe Lay said.

Clorius Lay casts a glance at his opponent during a checkers match in Gary Saturday Oct. 31, 2020. Lay, a Top Master, took on all challengers during an exhibition at the Gleason Park Clubhouse. (Andy Lavalley/Post-Tribune)

Post-Tribune

Clorius Lay casts a glance at his opponent during a checkers match in Gary Saturday Oct. 31, 2020. Lay, a Top Master, took on all challengers during an exhibition at the Gleason Park Clubhouse. (Andy Lavalley/Post-Tribune)

She said her father would often appear tough on the exterior but he always acted out of love.

“He was just a good man, a very, very good man. He’s going to be deeply missed,” she said.

Cloe Lay said her father had more accomplishments than she could possibly list. In 2001, he was named a Distinguished Hoosier. In 2023, then-Mayor Jerome Prince gave Lay the Key to the City. He was also honored with the Golden Hoosier Award in 2023, among other honors. He was most proud of being named a Sagamore of the Wabash, an honor bestowed on him in August 2017 by Gov. Eric Holcomb, she said.

Lay was devoted to his family and was best friends with his 7-year-old grandson Harrison. The pair spent a lot of time together. Lay also has two granddaughters, Ragen and Meredith Lay, of Mississippi, the daughters of his late son Rosmond.

“He was a very logical man. The way he would think is the way he would operate through life. He definitely was one of a kind,” Cloe Lay said.

Prior to joining the Lake County Council, Lay served as an At-Large Councilman on the Gary Common Council, a position he held on two separate occasions. In the early 1990s, Lay served on Gary’s first elected school board. He also served four terms on the Calumet Township Board.

Lay was active in the city’s Civil Rights movement through the 1960s and 1970s, working with the late Mayor Richard Hatcher, and was instrumental in helping bring the Black National Political Convention to Gary in 1972.

Lake County Council President Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, extended her condolences to the family.

“I’m saddened by the sudden passing of my colleague Councilman Lay. I knew him to be a legend in his community. A force to be reckoned with. He always said what was on his mind. He was an honest, confident and kind man. He will be missed,” Cid said.

Attorney Rinzer Williams described Lay as a friend and mentor.

“We met in the early 2000s and he took a liking to me,” Williams said. He was in law school at the time and offered support and guidance as Williams worked to pass the bar.

“He was my biggest critic and my biggest fan,” Williams said, adding when he struggled to pass the bar Lay would tell him, “You’re too smart to be this damn dumb,” Williams recalled.

Lay did not mince words but could be counted on for his support.

“He knew how to motivate you,” Rinzer said.

Lay took pride in his upbringing and the work ethic he said it instilled in him, Williams said. He was a man of superior intelligence who was an equally hard worker.

“He was an icon in the legal community. I don’t think there was any level of law he didn’t practice,” Williams said, adding he has tried to mirror his own career after Lay.

Williams described Lay as always impeccably dressed, as Lay knew as much about dressing as he did about law. He knew where the wool was made and the stitch pattern.

“He talked about dressing like he was a law school professor. He took pride in that. I think his greatest love was dressing,” Williams said.

The county councilman was also a master checker player.

Jim Wieser, chairman of Lake County’s Democratic Party, said Lay’s death was a loss for the community and the party.

“It’s just sad. We lose two really good men, good public officials from Gary within several weeks of each other. That’s just tough,” Wieser said. Lay’s death comes on the heels of the death of Calumet Township Assessor Cozey Weatherspoon on Jan. 16.

He said Lay threw his support behind the county party after he was elected to the county council. He also had a genuine interest in the concerns of the various county departments.

“He was just a nice man. It’s unexpected and sad,” Wieser said.

Former Gary Deputy Mayor Trent McCain said he was deeply saddened to learn about Lay’s death.

“Clorius was a gifted attorney and a stalwart politician. We would talk often about the law and politics sometimes for hours on end. The ‘dean’ possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Lake County politics and had an impeccable memory,” McCain said.

“We were planning to sit down for a steak dinner here soon to celebrate his 50th year in the law practice. I will always remember his mantra — ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and the one.’ It was his North Star,” he said.

Republican County Councilman Randy Niemeyer and Lay formed an unlikely friendship in their freshman year on the body that had continued to grow. The men share a more than three-decade age gap and different political ideologies.

“He was my buddy. We both really, I think, respected our differences,” Niemeyer said. The political differences did not drive a wedge between the pair, instead they bonded over their mutual respect for the government process.

“It was that respect for our procedures and rules that was one of things that really drew us together. We both had that viewpoint,” Niemeyer said. “He had a pure passion for public service. We were kindred spirits in that way.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to spend time with him, to learn about his life, his journey,” Niemeyer said. “He was a very interesting man, a very kind mind, a heck of a public servant and a good friend.”

He said Lay was truly in office for other people.

“He had a deep passion for giving back and trying to prop others up. That was probably the biggest thing I got from him: his passion for serving other people,” Niemeyer said.

“It’s a sad day. I’m definitely going to take some time to be grateful for the opportunity I had to get to know such a unique individual and such a passionate public servant. My life is better for having had the opportunity of having become a friend of Clorius’s,” Niemeyer said.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com



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