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Maggie Daley, Chicago’s Beloved Former First Lady

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File Photo Of Maggie Daley (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

File Photo Of Maggie Daley (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Her smile could light a room. Her spirit moved even the most hardened politician.

Maggie Daley made everything look easy. Whether she was greeting royalty, world leaders, or just plain Chicagoans, she did it with grace and humor. Mrs. Daley died Thursday of complications from metastatic breast cancer. She was 68.

Mrs. Daley helped found After School Matters, the acclaimed non-profit offering Chicago teens a variety of activities outside school, in 1991. Before then, her role as first lady was largely ceremonial.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore Looks At The Life Of Maggie Daley

She christened ships, and cut ribbons.

She even used a power saw to dedicate a new Home Depot, one-handed, after slipping on the ice and injuring her arm.

When she and her husband traveled to Jordan to tour historic sites several years ago, they looked like a couple of kids.

“When you’re not around, we act like that all the time,” she said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Maggie Daley Through The Years

The former Maggie Corbett grew up in Pittsburgh. She was a popular student and high school basketball player. At the University of Dayton, she was farewell queen.

On March 25, 1972, she married Richard M. Daley, right after he was elected to the Illinois State Senate.

“She said, ‘Why are we getting married after the election?’” the former mayor once said. “I said, ‘It’s easy, we have to do something on Election Day first.’ ”

It was the first of many memorable elections for the Daleys. Most of them were successful. Though, after a rare defeat in the 1983 mayoral primary, Maggie Daley’s response to a reporter’s question now seems prophetic.

“You don’t look back and you don’t ponder about ‘why’ all the time,” she said. “You just go on and say, ‘Okay, this is what happened; now we’re going to go on, try to make things better.'”

She was talking about the election. It was also right after the death of the Daleys’ son, Kevin, who was born with spina bifida.

But it was the 2002 diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer that would really test that resolve.

Her first public appearance after that news set the tone.

“I feel good and I am so grateful, really beyond words, for the good wishes and the kindnesses, and the concern and especially the prayers,” she said. “They mean an awful lot. And, I’m just enormously grateful.”

So began a battle with the odds stacked against her; beating those odds year after year, to the delight of her doctors.

“She’s become the image, really, of hope and courage. She is someone that inspires all of us every single day,” said Dr. Steve Rosen, Maggie Daley’s doctor.

Through it all, Maggie Daley remained a proud partner for the mayor and a devoted mother to her children, Nora, Patrick and Lally. She survived long enough to attend Lally’s wedding in November.

Her commitment to the youth of Chicago also never wavered.

There were good times and there were setbacks. Maggie joked about them, using a line made famous by another cancer victim, Gilda Radner.

“It’s always something,” she joked.

At Northwestern University’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, they established the Maggie Daley Center for Women’s Cancer Care, in honor of a patient who remained upbeat, yet realistic.

“I feel wonderful. And, you know, I have a serious cancer,” she said at the time. “I will probably be doing therapy the rest of my life.”

Years ago, Maggie Daley paid tribute to the late Marge Hartigan, the wife of former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan, who also battled cancer. The words she used then may well be the words we could use today to describe her.

“She just had such dignity and such courage, but it wasn’t something she had to shout.”

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