Friends remember Maggie's passion, kindness

November 26, 2011 4:46:32 AM PST
Friday was not an easy day for some of those who knew Maggie Daley best.

A true champion is how some friends described her. Grief often shifted to the relishing of her life lessons as close friends shed light on a woman who seemed to prefer the background.

"She was a beautiful example of how you can use your life, the life you're given, to improve the lives of others, especially Chicago's young people," said Jackie Heard, press secretary for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Mrs. Daley often avoided public controversies and public displays, instead preferring to interact through her many charitable endeavors, including starting After School Matters,a local program that has become a model for the nation.

Many admired Maggie Daley before her illness and respected her commitment to her vision during the nine years after she was diagnosed with metastic breast cancer in 2002.

Among the abundant tributes, the most powerful seemed to be the most simple and obvious -- that she was gracious and dignified, devoted to her family and the people of her city.

"She was a visionary," said Ray Orozco, of After School Matters, a program that is her legacy. "Trust me, she never lost her passion, never lost it to the very end."

Twenty years ago Maggie Daley was the moving force behind After school matters, a program that grew from hundreds to serve thousands.

"If it weren't for this program, I'd probably be no one," said Karla Quintero, a participant of After School Matters. "And I'm proud to say I am someone right now."

"She used her station in life to give teens a voice and have them recognized," said Angelina Amanowan of After School Matters.

Maggie Daley will be recognized and remembered at a public wake at the Chicago Cultural Center from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, then at a funeral Mass Monday at Old St Patrick's Catholic Church, which is certain to focus on a lady who knew tragedy but drew from inner strength.

"I don't know how it came out, but that when it became an issue of whether she was going to see herself as a victim or a life force, she just said 'I am a life force,' " said Father Jack Wall, the family pastor.

When asked how Richard Daley was handling his wife's passing, Heard said, "He is emotional, and this has to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, situation that he will ever have to endure."

In the Daley clan's South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, the former first lady was remembered as a person who graciously lived a public life.

"It's a sad thing to have happened on a holiday like that," said Bridgeport resident Gerald Gasko.

Maggie Daley had a special commitment to the arts and had a close friendship with film critic Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz Ebert.

Ebert said her kindness is a part of her legacy.

"In the middle of her illness, that wonderful woman came to visit me in the hospital," Roger Ebert said. Chaz Ebert added, "She was good, she was kind and she was loved. "She believed in planting seeds whether it was the seeds for beautifying the city with beautiful flowers or the seeds for beautifying the souls of people."

At city hall Friday, the flag flew at half mast. Mourning bunting adorns the entrance and inside, a bouquet of the former first lady's favorite flowers, tulips, lies next to a book where mourners paused to offer their condolences.

"The city has lost an icon in the first lady of Chicago," said Cedric Avery. "I wish the family my condolences at this time."

"She was a strong figure for school children and for women in the city to follow her example and contribute something back as best as they could," Lisa Turner said. "A great figure for mother's as well."

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