CHICAGO — Maggie Daley, the wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and a gracious promoter of the city’s cultural and educational programs, has died. She was 68.
The former Chicago first lady, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, died Thursday night, family spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard told The Associated Press. Daley had been a reserved and dignified presence at her husband’s side during his 22 eventful years as mayor.
Heard said Daley was surrounded by her husband and children when she died just after 6 p.m. CDT.
“The mayor and his family would like to thank the people of Chicago for the many kindnesses they’ve shown Mrs. Daley over the years, and they appreciate your prayers during this time,” Heard said.
When she first learned she had breast cancer in June 2002, Daley said she was shocked. “But you pick up and you move on. … I’m not alone here. There are a lot of people who have experienced this,” Daley said in the weeks after the diagnosis.
Rahm Emanuel, who succeeded Richard M. Daley as mayor, said Chicago had “lost a warm and gracious first lady who contributed immeasurably to our city.”
“While Mayor Daley served as the head of this city, Maggie was its heart,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Of all her accomplishments, Maggie’s most treasured role was as a wife, mother, and grandmother.”
President Barack Obama, who is from Chicago, said in a statement that her efforts on behalf of the city’s children “live on as national models for how to create environments for children to learn and grow outside the classroom.”
The Daleys’ daughter, Lally, had moved up her wedding from New Year’s Eve to Nov. 17 so her mother could fully participate. The former mayor said his wife had a difficult summer, and a longtime mayoral aide said she had suffered setbacks and was not getting around as much as she normally did.
“Tonight, the state of Illinois lost a great treasure,” Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement released Thursday night. “Maggie Daley was a woman for all seasons who treated Chicago residents like family and served up hope and inspiration wherever she went.”
When Richard Daley was elected to his first term as Chicago’s mayor in 1989, he thanked his wife in his acceptance speech, calling her “the best campaigner in the family.” She was with him at the September 2010 news conference when he announced he wouldn’t seek another term. He left office in May 2011.
During his time in office, Richard Daley would routinely tear up when he spoke about his wife. They had met while he was campaigning for the Illinois Senate and were married in 1972. Eventually, their partnership became a steady force for the city during his at-times turbulent two decades at the helm of the nation’s third-largest city.
In the years after the cancer was diagnosed, Maggie Daley was in and out of the hospital. She received chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and had a tumor removed from her right breast.
By December 2009, doctors said the cancer had spread and Daley had radiation treatment for a cancerous lesion on a bone of her lower right leg. Doctors advised her to use a wheelchair until she finished therapy.
In March 2010, a titanium rod was inserted into her leg to reduce the risk of fracture after having radiation treatment on the leg.
All the while, she maintained a public life as Chicago’s first lady.
She was in Millennium Park in 2006 when the city’s “Cloudgate” statue was dedicated, calling it the cornerstone of the park.
“It serves as a gateway to the lakefront and downtown and beautifully captures our signature skyline,” she said.
In 2009, she and more than a dozen athletes headlined a departure party before boarding a flight to Copenhagen where the International Olympic Committee was to decide if Chicago would host the 2016 Summer Games. The committee picked Rio de Janeiro.
She was active in Gallery 37, which educates and employs young people in the arts, and she was a champion of the educational program After School Matters.
The organization said in a statement that “Chicago’s teens have lost their strongest voice and champion.” Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White called her “the driving force for the program’s success.”
She also had held a paid position as president of Pathways Awareness Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to teach parents about disabilities affecting children.
While her husband could be prickly, particularly with the media, Maggie Daley became a beloved figure. She declined most interview requests, saying she did not want to talk about herself, but she was gracious and smiling with reporters, typically saying only that she was feeling “just fine” when asked about her health. When, for example, her crutches fell to the stage during a rare speech, she simply said, “It’s OK, we’ll just leave them there,” and moved on.
Born Margaret Corbett, she earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Dayton and held honorary degrees from Columbia College in Chicago and the Catholic Theological Union.
She is survived by her husband and three children. Her 33-month-old son, Kevin, died of complications related to spina bifida in 1981.