Tribute to Former Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr. President, I would like to take a few moments to pay tribute to a remarkable woman.


Maggie Daley served with dignity and grace for 22 years as Chicago’s First Lady.


She died on Thanksgiving evening after a nearly decade-long struggle with metastatic breast cancer.  She was at home, in her bed, surrounded by her family.


There is a sad but fitting poignancy to the date.  People in Chicago and far beyond have so many reasons to be thankful for the life of this exceptional woman.


Maggie Daley was an adopted daughter of Chicago -- but no native-born Chicagoan could have loved the city more or served it better.


Last May, as her husband Rich prepared to step down at Chicago’s mayor, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about what Maggie Daley had meant to Chicago.


The first paragraph put it well. It read -- quote: “There has never been and may never be a Chicago First lady of greater impact, influence and inspiration as Maggie Daley.”


Maggie Daley was smart, funny, tireless, amazingly modest and deeply compassionate. 


She was also an intensely private person.  Yet she managed to touch so many people with her work and her example.


The love Chicagoans feel for Maggie Daley was reflected in the faces of the people who waited in a line a block long to attend her wake at the Chicago Cultural Center, a public treasure she helped to restore.


Among the thousands who waited in that line was Hazel Holt, age 74.


As the Chicago Tribune described it, Mrs. Holt “drove downtown in her church finery from the Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, absorbed the cost of parking, rode the bus and then walked on a damp, chilly November day to the wake.”


Mrs. Holt said that Maggie Daley “built connections to the city's people with her commitment to charities assisting children, as well as her public poise in the face of the cancer that would claim her life.”


She told the reporter:  “I just loved this lady.  I wish I had one quarter of her grace. She was a role model for a lot of us.”


That is a feeling shared by people throughout Chicago and far beyond.


Upon hearing of Maggie’s death, Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure, said: “We’ve lost a real general.”


Loretta and I were blessed to have known Maggie and Rich Daley for many years now.


Yesterday morning, as I attended Maggie’s funeral Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago I remembered the Mass we all attended there last St. Patrick’s Day.


It was clear that Maggie’s health was flagging.  She was in a wheelchair.  But all of her struggles were quickly forgotten as her grandkids, dressed in their finest green, scrambled in the church pew to see the Shannon Rovers piping up the center aisle. Maggie and Rich were beaming with the joy that loving parents and grandparents live for.


Devotion to family

Maggie Daley was a patron saint of worthy social causes. But her deepest devotions were to God and her family.


Maggie and Rich Daley were blessed with four children – Patrick, Nora, Kevin and Lally.


Years ago, she made her husband promise to reserve Sundays for private family time – a promise he kept even as mayor.


Two weeks ago, the family announced that their youngest daughter Lally had moved the date of her wedding from New Year’s Eve to mid-November so that Maggie could attend.


There she was, in her wheelchair and her irrepressible smile, a beaming mother celebrating her daughter’s happiness.  Quintessential Maggie.


Kevin’s influence

Part of the reason Maggie Daley found such joy in life is that she understood what a fragile gift life can be.


In 1981, her third child, Kevin, died from spina bifida just months shy of his third birthday,


After Kevin’s death, she found healing and meaning in helping others and especially in volunteer work for children with disabilities.


Someone once called her the godmother of all Chicago’s children.


After School Matters

In 1991, she and Lois Weisberg, Chicago’s longtime commissioner of cultural affairs, began Gallery 37, a non-profit organization dedicated to the arts in the Chicago Public Schools.


That program later became After School Matters.   Over two decades, it has nurtured the artistic talents of thousands of Chicago high school students and become a model for programs in many US cities and as far away as London and Australia.


Maggie Daley believed that art could change lives.  She believed that artistic talent could exist in children from the Robert Taylor Homes as surely as it could in children from Lincoln Park and that all young people should have the opportunity to develop their talents together.  That’s what After School Matters offers.


Maggie Daley also served on the auxiliary board of the Art Institute and the Women's Board of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.


Adopted daughter of Chicago

It was a happy accident that Maggie Daley came to live in Chicago. 


Margaret Ann Corbett Daley was born and grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, the youngest of Patrick and Elizabeth Corbett’s seven children – and their only girl.


After graduating in 1965 from the University of Dayton, she entered a management training program for Xerox.  Her work with Xerox brought her to Chicago.


She promised her father she would stay in Chicago only two years and then come home.


But in 1970 she met a young attorney named Rich Daley at a Christmas party.  They were married for nearly 40 years.


Battle against cancer

The average survival rate for metastatic breast cancer – cancer that has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes – is two to three years.


Maggie Daley lived with this incurable illness for nine years.


Her doctor’s called her a medical miracle.


She endured years of painful treatments and faced her cancer with courage, dignity, grace and good humor.


As the cancer progressed, she relied on crutches, a walker and eventually a wheelchair to help her get around.


She donated generously to help open the Maggie Daley Center for Women's Cancer Care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last year. The center helps other women facing cancer by providing access to doctors and important support services.



Loretta and I want to offer our deepest condolences to Mayor Daley and to the Daley children and grandchildren.


We trust that time and treasured memories will ease the great sorrow they now feel.


They can also take comfort in knowing that the legacy of Margaret Corbett Daley can be seen and felt all over the adopted city she loved.


Maggie Daley’s dedication to the arts will continue in part through the work of her daughters Nora Daley Conroy, who chairs Chicago’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, and Lally.


Her commitment to education will live on in the lives of the young people she has touched.


Her courage will endure in the women she inspired, who can now find medical care at a center she helped establish.


“What’s important”

Maggie Daley didn’t like to speak about herself, she preferred to praise others.


Two years after she was diagnosed with cancer, however, she gave an interview to the Chicago Sun Times in which she hinted at how she felt about her future.


This is what she said – quote:   “I try not to waste any time.  At the end of the day, what’s important is if you think that the people around you have maybe had a better day because of some of the things you’ve done.”


By that standard and so many others, Maggie Daley lived a good and full life.  She did much good, and she will be greatly missed.