Jessica Lynn Bryar

March 6, 1972February 3, 2019

A noble and tireless public servant for 20 years, Jessica Lynn Bryar, age 46, passed away on February 3. Jessica was a formidable advocate and vocal champion for children and families in need of representation, especially the most vulnerable. Her leadership, compassion, and dedication to ensuring equity and justice for those she served were inspiring to everyone fortunate enough to know her. As Chief in the Civil Division of the Cook County Public Defender’s office, she represented the needs of indigent individuals in the Child Protection and Mental Health divisions of the Circuit Court of Cook County. She was a proud member of the Civic Leadership Academy (’17), served on the American Bar Association’s National Alliance for Parent Representation Steering Committee, and Illinois Department of Children and Family Service’s Cook County Transformation Team. Jessica earned her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and B.A. from Boston College. Jessica was loved and respected by a host of family, friends, and colleagues who appreciated her remarkable and steady kindness and grace, her hearty laugh, and her quiet but indomitable inner strength. Her passionate celebration of life, positive spirit, and vibrant outlook leave a lasting impression on us all. Jessica was a loving daughter, caring sister, and nurturing aunt. She is survived by parents Cicely Bryar and George Bryar; siblings Sharon (Bob) Eichinger, Julie (Tom) Smith, Liz (Terry) Raser, Paul (Jen), Colin (Sarah) and Kevin (Denise) Bryar. She was “Fancy Aunt Jess” to 16 nieces and nephews. Service will be held Saturday, February 9 at St. John Fisher Church (10234 S. Washtenaw Avenue, Chicago, IL 60655). Visitation begins at 9:00 am with Mass to follow at 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Chicago, 954 W. Washington Blvd., #305, Chicago, IL, 60607, or the charity of your choice are appreciated.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Bryar family.

Our Jessy Bear: A Reflection by Emma Raser

Thank you all so much for coming today. Jessica truly had the most beautiful and kind soul, which endeared her to everyone she met. It’s a testament to her nature that she formed so many forever lasting friendships over the years.

For those of you who do not know me, I am Emma, Liz and Terry’s daughter, and Jessica is my aunt – or Fancy Aunt Jess, as we loved calling her. Hers is a loss that we will all feel deeply, though I know her memory will live on in us forever. The 46 years she was with us is all too short, but all the good, all the accomplishments, all the friendships she packed into those 46 years is quite remarkable.

Jessica was born on March 6, 1972 to my grandparents, George and Cicely Bryar. She was the youngest of seven kids, Sharon, Julie, Lizzie, Paul, Colin and Kevin. Even as the youngest, Jessy was very much a unique individual with her own, very large personality. Her caring, genuine spirit and outgoing personality were evident from a young age. Tinier in size and often carrying her doll named Klutz, everyone on the block knew her as Doll, Doll Baby, or DB. Many here were probably at Klutz’s birthday party. Everyone she encountered quickly grew to love Jess. She and Kevin would often have lunch with the mailman, Lee or would bring cookies or letters to the garbage collectors. She always had a knack for making others feel appreciated.

Jess also became a fast and dear friend with the friends of her 6 older siblings. People were drawn to her magnetic, fun-loving personality no matter what age group or gender. Jarred proudly boasts that Doll was the ONLY female member of the Fairfield Flyers, the toughest street gang of 7 and 8 year-olds from California to Western and 103rd to 107th. She shot hoops with the boys in the backyards and soon they were cheering her on at the courts of Fisher and Ignatius.

As the youngest of seven, people might assume that she would get the “short end of the stick,” but as with so much about Jess, she put a positive spin on everything. For instance, Jess was frequently late to Ignatius because her brothers had first period free, yet she rarely served JUG because who could possibly send Jessy to detention.

Whenever we re-lived and shared such stories, we would laugh and laugh and laugh. Jess’s hearty laugh especially filled the room. She was never afraid to laugh at herself. The sound of her laughter is one we’re really going to miss hearing. Jessica’s brothers and sisters had a great love and respect for her. I remember her telling me of a conversation she had with her brother Paul outside of Cice’s house after she had graduated from college, during which it clicked to her that Paul no longer just saw her as just his baby sister, but an intelligent woman whose input he valued. She was so unassuming and humble; sharing every part of her mind and heart was just in her nature. I know that her brothers and sisters often sought out her advice, learned from her words of kind wisdom and simply wanted to be with her because she was the best company to have.

Jessica loved and admired both of her parents. She greatly respected her father George’s, intellect. During car rides to appointments at the VA or over lunch, they often discussed healthcare and reforms. Jessy spoke fondly of their road-trip a few years back to Branson, MO, where she had the opportunity to cheer George on as he was being honored for his accomplishments, which is something that George had done for Jessy throughout her countless achievements. Jessica also shared a truly remarkable relationship with her mother, Cice. They were two peas in a pod. Whenever I called Cice, I would often end up on her car speaker phone and hear Jessy’s “Hi, Emmy!” in the background. The two would be heading to shopping trip to Oakbrook, going out to brunch with Julie at Prasino, heading to the Goodman or a matinee at the movie theater, where they’d likely sneak in lobster rolls for lunch, or be in the midst of planning another worldly adventure they’d be taking with our friend, Ginny. So much of Jessica’s strong will, wit, and family-oriented mindset came from Cice, her mother, her best friend.

Jessica’s 11 years of Jesuit education, combined with her altruistic morals, naturally led her to a career path as a woman for others. She truly embodied the 6 Jesuit values: 1. Cura Personalis, the care for the person - promoting human dignity and care for the mind, body and spirit 2. Magis, meaning more - not just doing more, although Jess was definitely a doer, magis is the value of striving for the better, striving for excellence 3. Men and women for others - obvious 4. Unity of mind, obvious again as Jessy’s intellect matched her empathy 5. Contemplative in action - not merely think about social problems, but calling them out and addressing them head on 6. And lastly, finding good in all things - Jess saw and found the goodness in everything and everyone.

As the strong and selfless woman she was, Jessica was committed to giving a voice to people who weren’t heard, but deserved to be heard. She believed that everybody had the right to feel valued, and safe and loved. And these, among many others, were the beliefs that also she instilled in her nieces and nephews.

Jessy was our Favorite Aunt Jess, our Fancy Aunt Jess, our Jessy Bear. My brother Joseph started the name “Jessy Bear” after hearing the book Jessie Bear, Jessie Bear, What Will You Wear? Just like the bear in the story, our Jessy bear could find the fun in anything and gave us many many days packed with pure happiness. If you ask any of the 16 cousins, they’ll each tell you that Jessy was one of the most influential people in their lives. We hold dearly in our hearts so many fond memories with her, from setting up the sprinkler in the backyard, picnics and bike rides at the point, beach or pool days, trips to museums or the zoo, DC/Jamestown road trips, movie nights, signing us up for races and training together, make your own sushi nights; and she proudly sat in the audience of countless dance recitals, plays, competitions, and grade school, high school, and college graduations. In her very busy schedule, Jessy always had time for us. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Cousin Sleepovers” she had each year around Christmas time. We all so looked forward to the extravaganza; nothing could dampen our fun - not the flu, pink eye, or a few of us taking lice back home, not a snowstorm or even “Baaad” pancakes could bring us down. Bad pancakes referencing how Kate described the pancakes Jessy made for us at the very first cousins sleepover when she didn’t have any milk or eggs, but made us what we wanted anyway.

Jessy also took the time to get to know each of us on a deeper individual level. She knew what made each of us excited or upset, and she knew our passions and our fears. The gifts she gave us were not only experiential, but so thoughtfully selected for the individual receiving them. For birthdays (and the frequent “why not” presents) she gifted tickets to a show or ballet, drum lessons, cooking classes, salsa dancing lessons, Spanish classes, memberships to professional organizations suited to our fields - she paid for many of my race registration fees. For Christmas she gave us KIVA gift cards and took us to volunteer at Inspiration Cafe to serve meals for the homeless. She encouraged us to be involved in life, nurtured us to be philanthropic, and raised us to each be the best versions of ourselves, and even better, we were just happy to be together and to be with her.

One of the most valuable lessons that Jessica taught me is that beauty is not physical appearances or material things, but that true beauty is treating yourself and others with kindness and acceptance. She taught me to love myself first so that I could wholeheartedly love another. Before I went away to college she gave me a framed copy of the poem “Beauty Tips.” It sat on my nightstand for years and every time I read at it I pictured Jessica. The poem so sums up Jess’s beauty, so I’d like to share a few lines with you:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others. The true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives and the passion that she shows.

What’s astounding to me is that when I think of every lesson Jessy imparted upon me, ones that ultimately helped shaped me into the woman I am today, she did the same thing for each one of the cousins. A few days ago my uncle Colin reminded me of a promise that Jessy made to us after my great-aunt Clare passed away. Clare was very similar to Jessy, especially in the love she had for her nieces and nephews. We had called her Clara-belle. Jessy gave a eulogy at Clare’s funeral during which she promised to step into the role of Clara-belle, saying to all my cousins, “Let me be your Jessy Bear.” Jessica beyond succeeded in fulfilling that role.

Jessica, you are our selfless and beautiful hero, our inspiration and you represent a higher good. Thank you for everything that you have given us. To return to the words of St. Paul, the lessons you have taught us, the traditions you have passed on, all that we have heard you say or saw you do, we promise we will put into practice.


  • Visitation Saturday, February 9, 2019
  • Memorial Mass Saturday, February 9, 2019

Jessica Lynn Bryar

have a memory or condolence to add?

Rick Leonard

February 9, 2019

Jessica & I grew up in Beverly together. I think I first met her in high school. We probably met @ the woods, the park or somebody’s house. She had a great smile to go along with her cool personality.
I eventually became a Cook County Sherriff & she became a public defender. So, then we became friends again. We would usually run into each other @ Juvenile Courthouse. I always liked talking to her. She was a positive & optimistic breath of fresh air. She was a good person. She will be missed by many.
Your friend, Rick Leonard

Toni Dunlap

February 9, 2019

I started working with Jessica when I was the clinical coordinator of the Juvenile Court Assessment Program (JCAP). She, I and others worked collaboratively as part of Child Protection Family Drug Court. I have fond memories of her from when she was first promoted to the chief of her office to the last time I saw her in court in 2018. Despite my current role as a child protection investigator, she was always warm, inviting and engaging towards me. She was very hands on with her staff and always maintained a positive disposition. I am unable to think of Jessica without thinking of her radiant smile. I was deeply saddened when I learned of her passing and there will forever be a void at the Cook County Juvenile Center.

My condolences to her family, and friends.

Avik Das

February 8, 2019

I am so grateful to have known Jessica and to have had the privilege of her mentorship and support. It is no surprise that she had left such a lasting impression in so many people's lives. She took such an interest in supporting my professional growth and opened the doors to experiences that have proven so rewarding and transformative. Another friend remarked that Jessica's marching orders were clear and I absolutely agree. I guess I just imagined marching right beside her and celebrating the big next steps in the work with her. My prayers and love to all those who are feeling Jessica's absence and my best to all who she's inspired.

Brandy Brixy

February 8, 2019

Jessica Bryar was one of my favorite people. For 18 years she was my friend, confidant, mentor, sounding board, co-conspirator, and work wife. Jessica had a heart of platinum, diamonds, chocolate, sunshine and blue skies. I cannot believe I will never again hear Jessica say, “Hey Brandy Girl!” or see her smile with that twinkle in her eye which told you she was cooking up something great in that ingenious brain of hers.
Jessica was one of the most forward thinking leaders in our office. As Chief of the Civil Division, she re-wrote the book on how to represent parents who were at risk of losing their children. She was always thinking of how to improve her division, inspire her lawyers, gain allies for her cause, and how to get people to realize the import of standing up for those who most wanted to simply turn a blind eye towards. She dedicated her life to fiercely defending poor people and she cared for her clients deeply. It has been my good fortune to have been Chief of a division on the same office floor where Jessica was also a Chief. Whenever I found myself not knowing how to navigate a touchy work situation I would seek counsel from Jessica. She never failed to lead me in the right direction.
Selfishly, what I will miss most of Jessica is her friendship. I will miss our lunches at the delicious hole in the wall taquerias. I will miss her warmth and belief in me. I will miss sharing hopes, dreams, and gossip (b/c Jessica truly was the vault and you could tell her anything and trust her not to utter a peep). I will miss hearing the heartwarming stories about the adventures she had with her nieces and nephews. I will miss closing the door to her office and going on unspeakable rants with wild eyes and raised voice, while Jessica sat back and laugh that infectious bellowing laugh of hers, until we’d both end up in stitches holding our sides, breathless from laughter.
Jessica, my beautiful friend, you lived an exemplary life. I love you.

Rob Cimo

February 8, 2019

Jess and I were classmates at St. Ignatius, where she personified the school's charge to be a person for others. She was always positive, caring, and selfless - a person you worked to emulate in your better moments. Even as a teenager her example inspired this shy acquaintance to help lead a faith retreat; today her life's story in the memories shared here will be what I try to raise my daughters to become. Thank you, Bryar Family, for providing in Jess such a vibrant example to us all of how to live a life of goodness, purpose, and grace. Six candles will be lit in Durham, North Carolina tomorrow in prayer that God brings you comfort and peace.

Stephanie Sauter

February 7, 2019

Oh, Jess. Always more patient than me. Always more compassionate than me. Always more understanding than me. Always more thoughtful than me.
Always more open-hearted than me. Always smarter than me. Since I’ve known you, you have been my hero. If I could be just a bit more decent, a bit more kind, a bit more loving, I could be closer to the person I should be, a person much more like you.
I miss you, girlie. The world will be so much less bright without you in it.

meryl paniak

February 7, 2019

I am struggling to understand the loss of such a beautiful soul. Death is the most unexplainable concept that we face. I can only acknowledge that this is beyond my understanding.

Jessica was one of a kind. May her memory be a blessing. My heart goes out to her family and many friends.
Jessica will be forever remembered, and forever missed

Meryl Paniak.

Beth Burns

February 7, 2019

Jessica is LOVE.

Selfless. Radical. Love.

I met Jess in 4th grade. I can’t quite remember the moment we met, but I remember the next 37 years of friendship with reverence and deep appreciation.

Jess was a teacher, leader and student in everything she did. She was a spectacular athlete. I could distinctly tell when her inner fire ignited – fiercely competitive, yet, always a good sport - she would change, her eyes would narrow and her notorious hustle would electrify. We knew her determination and will were about to light up the room.

It wasn’t through her fancy plays, or her shooting prowess, the oohs and ahhs and accolades weren’t for Jess: it was in her natural unselfishness and how she subtly elevated all of us with the perfect pass, the unheralded defensive play and her persistent drive. She had that way about her – helping you become your best self and become whole over and over and over again.

She would listen with such genuine intent from my most mundane stories to my more extravagant ones (particularly about my family!) and with that smile - that came on a bit wiry and slyly and turned into pure SUNSHINE - she’d say “Oh My Goodness!”. She would laugh with more verve than anyone and that laughter would reverberate internally, hitting chords and chambers you didn’t know needed to be healed and sparked alive.

Jessica taught us that when we stand in solidarity with people on the margins, we are all rescued. She embraced the humanity and dignity of all people. Jess’s remarkable and steady kindness, dogged loyalty, grace & ease, shattering smarts and deep, inner quiet strength have been and will continue to be among the greatest gifts in my life. It is so lucky and profoundly life affirming to have witnessed her beauty.

Jessica! thank you, our dear and beloved friend for your love. May we live with and celebrate the echoing vibrations of your mighty heart and essence, from the most quiet to the loudest moments of our wild and precious lives.

Melissa Staas

February 7, 2019

I first began working with Jessica on issues surrounding parents' advocacy and family defense almost 10 years ago. In short order, I began to view her as a go-to person for an all-encompassing range of issues and questions. Jessica seemed to have endless energy, exhibited knowing savvy, but most of all was filled with compassion. As others have also noted, I think one of Jessica's greatest gifts was her generosity of spirit; she was always eager to spotlight and lift up the talents and work of others. Over the years, Jessica grew to be a central source of professional support for me, and also a personal friend. The families of Cook County were so fortunate to have her in their corner and those of us who work in this field have lost an irreplaceable teammate, colleague, and friend. It was truly inspiring to work alongside her and I already miss her terribly. My deepest condolences to her loving family and I only hope you can find some solace in knowing that Jessica's legacy will live on through the countless people whose lives she impacted.

Rachel Ruttenberg

February 7, 2019

Jessica was a passionate advocate, a dreamer, and a fierce connector. She wanted to bring everyone together in order to solve the world's problems; every introduction and meeting had a dozen possible topics and outcomes, and could generate a dozen more people we could get in front of with our issues. That is one of the things I will remember most about her, as her authenticity, passion, and diplomacy opened so many doors for conversations with unlikely partners and opportunities for our work together on expanding and improving parent representation. I will also remember her laugh, and the way she dropped my calls every time she got in and out of the car. Every issue needs a Jessica Bryar and we lost one of our guiding stars here in Illinois. My deepest sympathies to her family, friends, and colleagues. We already miss her so very much.