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Even in death, Maggie Daley seemed to maintain her privacy

Funeral Mass for Maggie Daley Old St. Partick's Church Monday November 28 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Funeral Mass for Maggie Daley at Old St. Partick's Church Monday, November 28, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: December 30, 2011 8:21AM

Maggie Daley always seemed to pick her spots.

As a very private person living in the public eye, she revealed herself to Chicagoans gradually and mostly at moments of her own choosing.

Her health problems were the obvious exception, the timing beyond her control. But even then, it was her decision to show the public her determination and cheery resolve in the face of adversity.

While most of us liked what we saw, we also knew there must be so much more to her than we were seeing.

Her funeral Monday was a lot like that.

It was a high-powered affair fit for a head of state but still managed to maintain a lovely, charming quality, much like the woman herself.

There was the beautifully understated setting of Old St. Pat’s Church and soothing selections of religious music with an occasional Irish lilt.

Longtime family pastor Rev. Jack Wall gave a powerful homily drawing on his relationship with Chicago’s former first couple — noting that Maggie’s friends affectionately called her Mother Superior for her penchant for finding life lessons in “teachable moments.”

And rarely heard son Patrick Daley gamely delivered more personal remembrances on behalf of her children, including that she “demanded excellence and expected greatness,” a tall order for any child.

Yet when the service was over, I was struck that I didn’t have much more real insight and understanding into Maggie Daley than when it began.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation about the tricky business of balancing a private life with public demands.

Even in death, Maggie Daley managed to hold something back.

Most of you reading this didn’t know Maggie Daley personally, and we start off even in that regard.

I never even met her. But I saw what you saw.

We saw her grace. We saw her smile. We sensed both were genuine.

“Grace” is a word that most of us would have difficulty defining, yet we know it when we see it.

And that’s why it’s been on nearly everyone’s lips over the last few days.

It is not a word you would normally associate with the men in the Daley clan.

Rev. Wall spoke about “how gracious this woman was” and “the mystery, the wonder of a graceful person.”

He put it in a religious context — grace as God at work inside her.

That led him to something else “coming from that deepest place” within her — that smile.

“How will we always see Maggie?” he asked. “… It is Maggie with that radiant smile.”

It’s the only way I can ever remember seeing her — and a reminder to all of us of how much good can be conveyed with just a smile.

I don’t want this to come across as if I’m nominating Maggie Daley for sainthood, because I don’t really know enough about her.

But I know Chicagoans respected and admired her for how she presented herself, and I wanted my chance to acknowledge that.

There’s something to be said for picking your spots.

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