Maggie Daley dies at 68

November 25, 2011 8:12:31 AM PST
Her nine-year battle against cancer was a picture of courage and grace, but on Thursday, Maggie Daley died at the age of 68.

Chicago's former first lady died at home Thursday evening surrounded by family. Maggie Daley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002.

A spokeswoman for the former mayor says she died about 7 p.m.

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will," Maggie Daley once said.

She was quoting Gandhi when she said that in 2009. It was the opening of the new Children's Memorial Hospital.

But she could have been talking about herself.

Maggie Daley's strength and the way she handled her years-long struggle with cancer had brought admiration and respect from Chicagoans after her diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in 2002.

The very private first lady of Chicago had her husband's support to keep her treatment private.

Mrs. Daley's type of breast cancer often spreads beyond the breast to the lymph nodes and then other parts of the body. But four years later, she was doing well, and she apparently had a change of heart. She made public statements about the advances in breast cancer treatment and how she was a beneficiary.

"We're all just real hopeful, and I think now that's why I was telling you about medical research. I mean, it's beyond, as I say, I thought I knew a lot, and I didn't know that much," she said in 2006.

Caring about others had become the hallmark of Chicago's first lady, but it took awhile for her to take on a public role.

She was private citizen Maggie Corbett when she met a young man named Richard M. Daley at a Christmas party in 1970. He asked her out for New Year's Eve. She said yes, and 15 months later, they were married.

Maggie concentrated on being a mother even as her husband ran for and was elected an Illinois state senator in 1972.

Nora, Patrick and then Kevin were born. But the death of 33-month-old Kevin from spina bifida was a traumatic blow to both Maggie and Richie.

Later, daughter Elizabeth completed the family. In recent years, grandchildren obviously became a joy.

Children, especially needy children, became Maggie Daley's cherished cause.

That would bring Maggie Daley into the public eye. She became Chicago's first lady in 1989 and slowly she accepted board positions for several organizations that work for children. But Maggie Daley is most associated with and was most passionate about After School Matters.

"It's evident that these programs are helping our students and our communities succeed. In fact, I think you should know that other cities nationwide, such as Baltimore, Boston and New York, have seen the difference we are making in the lives of Chicago teens and the positive impact After School Matters has had on them. We are proud that Chicago is leading the way," said Maggie Daley. "We have now 25,000 opportunities in the city for teens, but we need to double that, and we need to double it as fast as we can. I think there's too much free time for kids, and this is an opportunity to really involve and engage them in something that is meaningful and worthwhile."

In April of 2009, Chicagoans were saddened to hear an MRI had detected a bone lesion on her spine, a sign that Maggie's cancer had spread to her bones. In December, Maggie made some appearances in a wheelchair. She also had ten radiation treatments after a malignant tumor was found on her right leg.

Just before Christmas, Mayor Daley talked about her treatment.

"She handles it," he said. "She's very strong. She knows more about doctors and dealing with it, which I don't. I shy away from that, that's how strong she is. She's doing, so far, doing very well."

Then in early March of 2010, Maggie was back at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Doctors later confirmed a foot-long titanium rod had been inserted into her right leg. It would relieve some of her pain and reduce the risk of a fracture after those radiation treatments had weakened the leg.

Maggie's passion for After School Matters brought her out for an appearance even though she was still in a wheelchair.

Maggie's strong example, as she underwent new and different treatments led to Northwestern naming their women's cancer center for her.

If Maggie Daley was struggling, you couldn't tell by her demeanor. She appeared at the City Club of Chicago near the end of June using crutches but determined to get support for After School Matters, and no matter how hard reporters tried, she deflected attention from herself.

"I feel wonderful," she said. "Why I'm here is for these teenagers, that's what I want to talk about. We don't do enough for them."

Her commitment gave her strength. She once told ABC7 her marriage and family gave her strength.

"I think we're strong for each other. [The children] have been wonderful. I couldn't be doing as well without their love and their support," she said.

On Nov. 17, the Daleys' daughter Lally was married. The wedding was moved up from New Year's Eve because the couple wanted to be sure Maggie could "fully participate" in the celebration. It was a hint to the condition of Maggie's health.

One more emotional highlight to the ceremony was Lally wearing the dress Maggie wore when she married Richard Daley.

But more than anything, Maggie Daley's faith made her strong.

"I believe in the power of prayer, and that's why I think that prayer is such a gracious thing," she said.


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