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Maggie Daley dies

Maggie Daley during an interview last month.

Maggie Daley during an interview last month.

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Updated: November 25, 2011 3:19PM

Maggie Daley, Chicago’s beloved first lady for nearly a quarter-century, has died, surrounded by her family.

Mrs. Daley, 68, who championed the After School Matters program now attended by 20,000 students a year, passed away after a long battle with metastatic breast cancer. In the weeks before her death, she understood the severity of her prognosis but was not in pain, said Dr. Steve Rosen, her oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

In the past two weeks, her youngest daughter, Elizabeth “Lally” Daley, moved her New Year’s Eve wedding to November 17 so her mother could participate. On Wednesday, the former Mayor Daley canceled all travel, including a planned trip to Harvard University, to be with his wife.

“Chicago has lost a warm and gracious First Lady who contributed immeasurably to our city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement late Thursday night. “While Mayor Daley served as the head of this city, Maggie was its heart.”

The focus of her public career, After School Matters, started as the Gallery 37 summer arts program for 260 kids. The program now gives thousands of Chicago public high school students a chance to find their passion in robotics, sports, dance, jazz, book clubs, urban farming and in other areas.

Mrs. Daley won numerous awards, including one last October when she traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the Leadership Award from the Kuwait-America Foundation for her “courage and for being an exemplary role model for women,” the mayor’s office said at the time.

First diagnosed with cancer in June 2002, Mrs. Daley more than tripled the average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with the disease in which cancer cells spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes. In July 2006 she had surgery to remove a tumor in her right breast. In April 2009, she underwent a biopsy of a lesion on her spine, a sign that the cancer had spread to the bone. In March 2010, a foot-long titanium rod was inserted in her right leg to support the bone, weakened by radiation treatments.

She was in and out of the hospital in recent months — at one point to replace the rod in her cancer-weakened right leg, then for an infection she got while in the hospital for that operation.

Mrs. Daley had been using a wheelchair and a walker but said in May on her husband’s last day in office that she felt good.

“I have a lot of challenges ahead,” she said at the time. “But anybody who has cancer has the same experience. We’re a mighty group. I’m not alone. I’m one of many.”

In the interview, which came as her husband retired from political life, Mrs. Daley reflected on her husband’s career.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “Twenty-two years have flown by, but it’s been a wonderful experience for us, and it’s been a good life. It’s a good life.”

Survivors include her husband, her three children, Nora Conroy, Patrick and Elizabeth. Another son, Kevin died before his third birthday in 1981 from complications of spina bifida. She is also survived by three grandchildren.

Contributing: Fran Spielman, Bill Zwecker, Kara Spak, Mitch Dudek

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