Maggie Daley, who dedicated herself to children's issues and the arts while also zealously guarding her family's privacy during 22 years as Chicago's first lady, died on Thursday, Nov. 24, more than nine years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mrs. Daley was 68 and died in her Chicago home surrounded by her husband, former Mayor Richard Daley, and her children, Nora, Patrick and Elizabeth, said Jacquelyn Heard, Daley's former spokeswoman and a family friend.
"The mayor and his family would like to thank the people of Chicago for the kindness they have shown Mrs. Daley over the years, and they appreciate your prayers at this time," Heard said.
Maggie Daley had long fought metastatic breast cancer, and she died of complications from that disease, Heard said.
Dr. Steven Rosen, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, said he had seen Mrs. Daley Thursday morning at her home, where in recent weeks she had been under the care of nurses and people from the center's support care program. Rosen said he was called to the home again between 6 and 7 p.m., and arrived about the time of her death.
Rosen, who had cared for Mrs. Daley since 2002, when the cancer had already spread to her lungs, liver and bones, marveled at her resilience.
"She was heroic," he said. "She had great dignity, and she was an inspiration for all of us."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Thursday night praising Mrs. Daley.
"Chicago has lost a warm and gracious first lady who contributed immeasurably to our city," Emanuel said in a statement. "While Mayor Daley served as the head of this city, Maggie was its heart."
Mrs. Daley had been hospitalized several times since her diagnosis, and in recent years had often used a walker, crutches or wheelchair during public appearances. Yet she remained a study in upbeat and gracious perseverance, downplaying her own struggles and eager to cast a spotlight on the needs of others.
As her husband ruled Chicago, Mrs. Daley usually sought to avoid the limelight. But in the background she wielded great influence over her husband, and he in turn used his power to benefit causes she championed — from transforming Meigs Field into a nature park to showering public funds on an after-school charity she founded. When questions were raised about such activities, the former mayor often grew agitated and defensive.
After what Heard described as "a difficult summer" for Mrs. Daley, she attended the Nov. 17 wedding of her daughter Elizabeth "Lally" Daley to Sam Hotchkiss at the upscale Spiaggia restaurant on North Michigan Avenue. The event had been set for New Year's Eve, but was suddenly moved up in apparent deference to Mrs. Daley's failing health. In wedding photos Mrs. Daley was with her family, beaming as always.
The day before Thanksgiving, the former mayor canceled a trip to speak at Harvard and other travel plans. Those close to Mrs. Daley and her husband said the couple had an exceptionally close relationship through their almost 40 years of marriage.
"They thrill at traveling, love movies and often laugh at the same things," TV and film producer Donna La Pietra told the Tribune in 2010. "These are two people who watch over each other, without being cloying or dysfunctionally protective."
Margaret Ann Corbett was born July 21, 1943, the youngest child and only girl among the seven children of Patrick and Elizabeth Corbett of Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb where her father owned and operated an auto parts dealership.
She attended St. Francis Academy high school and, after graduating from the University of Dayton, entered a management-training program with Xerox Corp. It was a position that eventually took her to Chicago and a job as a sales representative for Xerox Learning Systems.
She had promised her father she would only spend two years in Chicago before returning to the Pittsburgh area. But at a 1970 Christmas party she met and was smitten by Richard M. Daley, then an attorney and the oldest son of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley, the political boss of Chicago since 1955.
By the following November, the younger Daley and Maggie Corbett had become engaged. They were married in March 1972, in Pennsylvania, and her brother, the Rev. John Corbett, was the celebrant of the Mass. Daley's attendants were his three brothers, Michael, John and William, while his father and mother, Eleanor, sat in the front row of the St. Francis Retreat House.
It was already clear that Richard Daley was being groomed to enter the family business, politics. In 1969, at the age of 27, he was elected as a delegate to a convention that rewrote the Illinois Constitution, and three years later, shortly before the marriage, he declared his candidacy for the state Senate, a post he won and held for eight years until his election as Cook County state's attorney.
Any trouble the bride might have had grasping the extent of her new family's clout likely vanished on their honeymoon in Europe. In Rome, the newlyweds joined 10,000 others for a general papal audience. Pope Paul VI descended from his throne, walked up to the young couple from Chicago and congratulated them on their wedding, wishing them a long and happy life.
Back in Chicago, Mrs. Daley settled quickly into the role of politician's wife, as her husband not only entered the state Legislature but was also named by his father to head the powerful 11th Ward Democratic Organization. The couple moved into a home in Bridgeport, just blocks from the home where Daley was raised and his parents had lived for decades.
Mrs. Daley's new mother-in-law, Eleanor "Sis" Daley, was an elegant and proud woman who raised seven children in a household where religion, education and respect for others shared equal billing. Eleanor Daley, like her daughter-in-law would later, sought largely to avoid the public eye as Chicago's first lady.
"The greatest way a woman can contribute to the success of her husband is to raise his family," Eleanor Daley once declared.
Maggie and Rich Daley soon started their own family. A daughter, Nora, was born in 1973 and son Patrick arrived two years later. By 1976, the young family was sharing its Bridgeport home with two dogs — Casey and Murphy — and dealing with the death in December of that year of Richard J. Daley.
In 1978 the couple's third child, Kevin, was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spine is not closed. He was hospitalized many times, but the family converted a room in their home into a treatment center so he could spend as much time there as possible.
Many times, the child hovered near death and the family would gather to say its tearful goodbyes. But Kevin proved to be a fighter until 1981 when he succumbed, after being rushed to Children's Memorial Hospital.
"I like to think that the experience with Kevin affected us in a good way," Mrs. Daley reflected a decade later. "We learned to appreciate what's really important and to ignore the superfluous. Kevin taught us to take each day and enjoy each day and each other."
The Daley's youngest child, Elizabeth, was born in 1983. The family would take field trips to the zoo or to movies but, Mrs. Daley once said, "We're as likely to play Monopoly with the kids as anything else."
Once her children were in school, Mrs. Daley began to play an increasingly active role in the civic and cultural life of the city, serving on the auxiliary board of the Art Institute and the women's board of the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute.
She was occasionally on the campaign trail. Interviewed by reporters at a local deli during her husband's successful run for mayor in 1989, Mrs. Daley playfully asked reporters, "Do I have corned beef in my teeth?"
With her husband in City Hall, many organizations and individuals began seeking Mrs. Daley's help with civic projects. One of the first she eagerly became involved with was the city's Cultural Center, the former main branch of the Chicago Public Library on Michigan Avenue.
Richard J. Daley had planned to tear down the 1897 architectural gem, but his wife saved it from the wrecking ball with an unusual, for her, public statement about how she favored "restoring and keeping all the beautiful buildings in Chicago."
As first lady, Maggie Daley volunteered to raise funds for the continuing renovation of the old library building. It was the beginning of what would become a close friendship between Mrs. Daley and Lois Weisberg, the commissioner of cultural affairs for almost all of Richard M. Daley's tenure as mayor.
In 1991, Mrs. Daley and Weisberg teamed up to launch Gallery 37, a program to promote arts training and jobs for Chicago youth. That evolved into After School Matters, a private program to provide teens with educational and career-oriented activities in such areas as sports and technology.
Both efforts won widespread praise and were emulated in other cities. At the same time, After School Matters got a quiet boost of city resources courtesy of Mrs. Daley's husband, who took it personally when questions about the program were raised.
After School Matters, housed in rent-free city offices and benefiting from the grant writing and fundraising help of three city workers, received more than $54 million in city payments since 2004. "It's a charity of teenagers in Chicago," Richard Daley once snapped when asked about those payments. "Are you questioning my wife now?"
Some critics of the mayor claimed Mrs. Daley wielded considerable behind-the-scenes influence at City Hall. They pointed to lucrative O'Hare airport retailing contracts awarded to two of her closest friends, as well as to taxpayer-funded beautification projects she inspired.
In 1996, when Richard Daley first proposed turning Meigs Field into a park, he said his wife would co-chair the committee to facilitate the conversion. The idea to close the lakefront commuter airstrip ran into considerable resistance, in particular from then-Gov. Jim Edgar, but Daley eventually got around it in 2003 by tearing up the landing strip with heavy machinery under cover of darkness.
While Mrs. Daley's focus was largely on charitable work — she sat on the boards of the Golden Apple Foundation as well as Children at the Crossroads Foundation — she was sometimes paid for her efforts.
Tax filings released by the mayor in 2000 showed that Mrs. Daley was paid $80,000 as president of a not-for-profit that advocated for inclusion of disabled children in mainstream educational and recreation programs. The same filing showed she also earned $11,500 the previous year as chairwoman of a foundation that ran an art museum.
This fall, city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson revealed that developers who got taxpayer subsidies from Daley's administration were repeatedly required to make donations to After School Matters. Ferguson said more than $900,000 flowed into the nonprofit in such a manner.
Richard Daley, now the former mayor, attacked the report as "disgraceful" and "a personal insult" to his wife.
Mrs. Daley was far more unflappable than her husband in public. Her sense of humor flashed in public one morning when she was presiding over a West Side kindergarten as part of Teach for America Week.
"Are you married to the mayor?" one little girl asked.
"I'm guilty," Mrs. Daley said, laughing.
Symbolic of her perceived influence with her husband was the couple's move out of Bridgeport to a new South Loop condo in 1993, which was widely viewed as her call. Once they began living close to downtown, the Daleys became more visible on the city social scene. They were frequent first-nighters at the openings of plays. Steppenwolf Theatre was a particular favorite.
At a millennium celebration at the Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place, Mrs. Daley took the stage and gave an impassioned speech on behalf of the arts:
"Chicago is a city of literature and a city of music. Writers have loved the city's grit and moxie; its rawhide style of urban survival," she said. "Some younger musical traditions, coming up from Southern states, did not develop fully until they came to play a role in the life of this city. The people who make this city great are tough customers, even when beat. Our kind of hustling, forward-looking energy have focused the arts — have sharpened their blades. Chicago is a jazz town, a gospel town, and the home of the blues."
The intensity of Daley's affection for his wife was again made obvious when she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002. Just days before news of the illness was made public, Daley was unusually withdrawn at an event at McCormick Place. At one point he walked by himself out on a deck at the exhibition hall and stared for several minutes at the trees south of the building. When he returned, his eyes were red and moist. In ensuing years, he regularly got choked up when discussing his wife's health.
Mrs. Daley made her first public appearance after the announcement of her cancer at the July 2002 opening of Gallery 37's summer program. It was a sweltering day, but Mrs. Daley appeared cool and very much collected as she faced reporters more interested in hearing about her illness than in the program she helped create and was there to celebrate.
"I feel good and I am so grateful, really beyond words for the good wishes and the kindness and the concern and especially the prayers," she said. "They mean an awful lot and I am enormously grateful."
The teens at the gathering gave her a standing ovation.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Daley is survived by a son, Patrick; two daughters, Nora Daley Conroy and Elizabeth "Lally"; and three grandchildren, Margaret, John and Kevin.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Tribune reporters Bob Secter and Rick Pearson contributed.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times