A statue commemorating the late Mary York, the lesbian attorney and community activist who died of cancer in 2008, has been stolen from the Howard Brown Health Center ( HBHC ) Peace Garden.
York, who had been the president of the Board of Directors for the Lesbian Community Care Project, died the same year as Lisa Tonna. Both women had been beloved in the community, and the Peace Garden was designed to honor their legacy as well as provide a quiet, reflective place for patients and passersby.
That sense of peace has been wrecked yet again with this recent theftthe second since 2009, when it first went missing for a while. Barbara Tieder, HBHC's vice president of development and communications, told Windy City Times that the theft was noticed on the morning of April 7. This means it was probably stolen sometime between late Saturday evening ( April 5 ) and Sunday ( April 6 ), when the clinic is closed.
Tieder described the theft as "heartbreaking." What the thieves may not know is that the concrete base of the statue was mixed in with York's ashes, making this more than simply a petty theft of outdoor statuary.
Tieder said that HBHC simply wanted the statue restored, with no questions asked, and she emphasized that the composition of the statue, made from an alloy, is not of great value. ( Thieves might think it's made of bronze that can be melted down. ) "The statue has tremendous emotional value to us; it's not a priceless piece," she said. "It commemorates a woman who was an activist and a well known figure in the community."
The theft may well have been for aesthetic reasons as well. The statue is a replica of "Bird Girl," a piece by the Illinois sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson, and represents a young girl holding up two bowls. An image of another replica in a Savannah, Ga., cemetery achieved iconic status when it became the cover of the 1994 John Berendt book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A similar image graced the publicity posters for the film based on the book.
York's partner LaGenia Bailey spoke to Windy City Times about this theft: "My initial response was, 'You've got to be kidding,'" adding that York would probably have been somewhat amused by the turn of events.
But Bailey is also saddened by the loss. She said that York loved the statue, which had been in their home for years, and that it represented the attorney's lifelong commitment to a sense of equality and to how "she always balanced the scales in her practice and her life." Bailey noted wryly, "Think of the karma you would get from stealing someone's ashes."
Asked what plans HBHC has for ensuring the statue's security if it were returned, Tieder said the organization was in discussion about this. One of the plans is to install a plaque alongside the statue, telling visitors about its particular history and importance. For now, the plan is to it have it back outside upon its return.
Bailey thinks it should be taken inside this time around. She also wants people to think of what the statue symbolizes and said, ""I thank the community for remembering Mary York; hers was a legacy of love."
Both women echoed a similar plea to the thieves: Just bring it back.