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Two fine ladies named Daley

Updated: December 28, 2011 10:02AM

Sis and Maggie Daley were Chicago’s First Ladies for more than four decades combined. And though they held the same commitment to faith and family, they were very different women, the products of very different times.

When Eleanor “Sis” Daley watched as her husband was sworn in as mayor in 1955, Sputnik was still two years away; human space travel was a science-fiction fantasy; every telephone had a cord that bound it to the wall; and television sets — in the homes that had them — were black and white and boxy.

By the time Rich and Maggie Daley walked out of City Hall for the last time in the spring of this year, we were wireless, tweeting at warp speed and able to start our cars with our smart phones.

The era of Clarabelle and Howdy Doody had morphed into Steve Jobs and Jay Z.

As the times changed, so too did the women named Daley.

Sis “didn’t leave her home that much,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lois Wille recalled in an interview with NBC5 last year. “You know she cooked dinner for her husband every night; she’d bake bread.”

If the public loved that image of the “Leave It To Beaver” era, Bill Daley is quick to point out that his mother did not.

“My mother hated that thing about making bread every day,” said the son and the brother of Chicago mayors named Daley. “She said, ‘It makes me out to be an idiot, you know, like all I do is bake bread.’ ”

But Sis, with seven kids to raise, did not protest, stayed out of the spotlight and — at least publicly — out of Richard J. Daley’s politics.

“She could give him hell when he came home on stuff that went on at City Hall, and she did,” Bill Daley remembered in an interview last year. “And she was active in our community, but in a low-key way.”

Maggie Daley, in her earlier years as a political wife, did, as well.

But Maggie in private, like Sis, was every bit as emphatic about those things about which she felt strongly, according to David Axelrod, who ran Richard M. Daley’s 1989 campaign for mayor.

“She was a strong and influential presence,” said Axelrod, just hours after Maggie Daley’s death on Thursday.

Though as private a person as her mother-in-law had been, ironically, it was the most private of matters that became Maggie Daley’s most permanent and public legacy.

In the 1950s, no one who had cancer talked about it. The stigma was too great. But in the years that followed her 2002 diagnosis of breast cancer, Maggie Daley was open about her treatment, the challenges she faced, and the gratitude she felt for each new day that she could navigate her disease.

Unlike Dick and Sis Daley, who traveled out of the country only twice, Rich and Maggie Daley had, as Lois Wille put it, “favorite restaurants in Paris.” And a passport stamped with the countries of every continent.

Cancer didn’t stop their trips. “She didn’t surrender anything to the disease,” said Axelrod.

What Maggie Daley possessed, like Sis before her, was dignity. And grace in the face of adversity.

Two First Ladies.

Different times.

The same strength.

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