Home
Services
Legacy.com
820 Davis, Suite 210
Evanston, IL 60201
Resources
More Obituaries for Eleanor Daley
Looking for an obituary for a different person with this name?

Eleanor "Sis" Daley

Obituary Condolences

Eleanor "Sis" Daley Obituary
Chicago's 'matriarch' dead at 95
Wife and mother of mayors influenced a dynasty

Eleanor 'Sis' Daley: 1907-2003
By Rick Kogan and Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporters
Published February 17, 2003

It would be correct though incomplete to refer to Eleanor "Sis" Daley merely as a great wife and mother. Though those were the roles in which she was most comfortable and to which she devoted her greatest passions and energies, she was also an essential emotional cog in one of the most influential dynasties in American political history.

As the wife of Richard J. Daley, who was mayor of Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976, and the mother of Mayor Richard M., who was first elected in 1989, Mrs. Daley surely influenced the political and cultural fabric of the city.

Elegant, diminutive and proud, she was determined to provide her husband with shelter from his political storms and to raise their children in a strict but loving manner, in a household where religion, education and respect for others shared equal billing.

"I'm sure there are a lot of things she was responsible for, truth be told," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who has known the family for four decades and once carpooled to classes at DePaul University with the current mayor and later ran against him for the Democratic nomination for Cook County state's attorney.

"I have it on good authority that she was not reluctant to make her opinion known to the mayor."

Mrs. Daley, 95, died of an apparent stroke in her home in Bridgeport with family members around her, including the mayor.

"There was someone from the family with her at all times, and no one noticed anything out of the ordinary," said Jacquelyn Heard, the mayor's spokeswoman. "She started what seemed to be a normal day and had lunch with family."

Mrs. Daley died shortly before 5 p.m., Heard said.

"In a lot of ways, she was Chicago's matriarch. She had given greatly of herself to the city," Heard said.

Mrs. Daley was born on March 4, 1907, sharing her birthday with Chicago, which was incorporated as a city on that day in 1837. She was the eighth of the 11 children of Patrick and Nora Guilfoyle.

Both parents were Chicago-born children of immigrants from Ireland. The father worked as a butcher in the Stock Yards and the family lived in a home at 2949 S. Throop St. One friend recalls Eleanor as a "terrific volleyball player and a gymnast."

Eleanor was introduced to Richard J. Daley by her brother Lloyd at a softball game when she was a teenager and Daley was a law student, playing second base for the Hamburg Athletic Club team.

Daley would later recall his first impression of the petite blond: "She certainly was a fine Irish girl."

The neighborhoods near the Union Stock Yards were places of hard-working men who toted their lunch buckets to jobs at slaughterhouses, breweries, factories and construction sites. The homes were small and incomes low, but aspirations were high. Religion and education fueled the ambitions of parents for their children. Politics was one of the favored roads to success.

Daley, an only child, was not a smooth talker, but he was pleasant and handsome. He and Eleanor developed a friendship as they took in games together at Mark White Square Park, and Daley was so bold as to begin calling her "Sis," which was a nickname given her by her family.

By the time they started dating, she had graduated from St. Mary's High School and St. Bridget's Commercial and was working as a secretary. Their courtship was a lengthy one, lasting six years.

"She was always a nice girl, somebody you'd like to be with," recalled Ruby Lohmar years later. Lohmar worked with the future Mrs. Daley in the office of the Martin Senour Co. paint factory on 25th Street more than 70 years ago.

After going out on a date, the future Mrs. Daley sometimes returned to the office with candy and nuts, sharing the delicacies with her co-workers, said Lohmar.

She and Daley were married in June 1936, and their two-week honeymoon was taken in the midst of Daley's first political campaign--a successful run for state representative.

She and her husband had a marriage that was singularly free of any intimations of domestic squabbling. "Love is never having to ask. He was my first and only love," Mrs. Daley once said.

The family's home, a bungalow at 3536 S. Lowe Ave. in the heart of their native Bridgeport, was built by them in 1939 and would expand over the years to accommodate the growing family, which would eventually include seven children: Patricia, Mary Carol, Eleanor, Richard, Michael, John and William.

A devout Roman Catholic as was her husband, Mrs. Daley said she believed that having a large family helped to cement the marriage. One of her more famous quotes concerned her view on abortion: "I'd rather have a baby on my lap than on my conscience."

When Richard J. was first elected mayor in 1955, he shut down a raucous celebration at 10 p.m. to take his children home and get them to bed.

"I don't think our life will change much," she said at the time.

And primarily because of her, it didn't.

"She was a very humble and down-to-earth person who was never greatly impressed by the trappings of high office," Burke said. "She concentrated on raising a family and taking care of her home and ensuring that Mayor Daley always had a secure and peaceful respite from the heavy demands of his schedule.

"She was cut from the same bolt of cloth of so many other women of her era. She was a stay-at-home mom who looked upon her role as taking care of the house and the family."

When she was raising her children, her routine never varied. She was up at 7 a.m. to get the family in motion. She prepared the meals and baked Irish soda bread for dinner. She did most of the housework herself, with an occasional assist from the children and, once a week, from a cleaning lady. She cooked dinner for the children and the mayor always tried to get home for dinner even on nights when he had to attend political functions.

Richard J. told a reporter, "We spent a little time with the family at the dinner table, which was profitably spent, because when they're in school, that's the time when they need a father and mother to talk to them about their problems."

He added: "I always urged the children to speak up. Of course, I always spoke last."

The Daleys loved their home and Mrs. Daley was once compelled to respond to published comments that the family stayed in such modest digs to create the image of the mayor as "just a regular neighborhood guy."

"Believe me, it's not a put-on," said Mrs. Daley in 1971. "We're very attached to that old brick bungalow. As the children came, we built additions onto the back. Our roots are deep. We've got five bedrooms and four bathrooms. The rooms are all big, and we have a lovely yard with crab apple trees.

"We never wanted to disrupt our children's lives or schooling by moving into an official residence. A house is not a home if it is open to the public."

In 1959 Mrs. Daley was criticized by some out-of-town journalists for not inviting Queen Elizabeth II, who was visiting the city, to her home for tea.

The queen was apparently not miffed, however. She invited the Daleys to tea in Buckingham Palace when they visited Great Britain four years later.

During the first few of her husband's terms as mayor, Mrs. Daley was rarely seen at public events. She explained this by saying, "The greatest way a woman can contribute to the success of her husband is to raise his family. I didn't have much time for socializing. You can imagine, with all those children."

But as the children moved away to college and careers, Mrs. Daley became more visible and active in the mid-1960s, with such organizations as the Chicago Beautiful Committee, the Valentine Chicago Girls Club, and the American Cancer Society.

Though she was listed as campaign manager for his first run at political office in 1936, Mrs. Daley never played an active role in her husband's campaigns.

But she was ever quick to come to his defense, as she did in the wake of the tumultuous Democratic Convention in 1968, when the mayor was assailed for causing riots in the streets.

"I'm the buffer between my husband and his office," she told a reporter at the time. "I think no matter where the convention would have been held, the same treatment would have been given to the mayor. He is a very kind and gentle man."

In 1971, when a neighborhood supermarket placed on sale copies of "Boss," newspaper columnist Mike Royko's unflattering book about Mayor Daley, Mrs. Daley, according to one account, turned each book so that its title would not show. Then she sought out the manager and threatened to quit shopping at the store if the books weren't removed.

They were. As Royko gleefully reported in his column the next day, Mrs. Daley's tirade had resulted in a directive to all National Tea Co. stores to remove the book from their shelves.

The company reversed its ban a few days later, but Royko reported that the book had also vanished from gift-store shelves at the city's airports.

"Mrs. Daley did me a tremendous favor. I'm probably going to have a book leatherbound, embossed in gold and sent to her for Christmas because she put a couple of dollars in my pocket," Royko wrote.

Mrs. Daley said she had read the book, but City Hall claimed no knowledge of the book having been banned.

When asked about his wife's review of the book as "trash and hogwash," Richard J. replied with a grin, "She's entitled to her opinion."

She offered her opinion again the next year, but this time it was not in defense of her husband.

After the mayor announced his intention of replacing the Chicago Public Library's central building on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington Streets, Mrs. Daley announced that she favored "restoring and keeping all the beautiful buildings in Chicago," particularly the library.

The mayor later told reporters, "She doesn't speak for me and I don't speak for her. She is able to speak for herself very well, whatever she has on her mind."

The library building, built in 1897, was saved from the wrecker's ball and transformed into the city's Cultural Center.

Tribune columnist John Kass has more than once suggested that the building be renamed in honor of Mrs. Daley. In typically self-effacing manner, Mrs. Daley responded to each of those suggestions by calling Kass and asking him to desist.

When the Daleys celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 1976, Daley shared his feelings about his wife at a City Hall news conference.

Described as "misty-eyed but ebullient," Daley said, "The secret is to get a good wife and a good companion. We've had a very happy marriage and we have a great family and there's been no great differences between us."

Less than a year later, Daley was dead of a heart attack. Thousands of people gathered in bitter cold to pay their respects at the wake in Bridgeport's Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church on Dec. 21, 1976. Inside the church, Mrs. Daley, at her husband's bier, thanked each person for coming.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Daley continued to participate in the city's cultural and civic life, although she was not particularly active in the election campaign that saw Michael Bilandic succeed her husband in the mayor's office.

"I'm busy. I'll always be busy," she told a reporter at a reception in her honor on April 25, 1977.

In 1983, by her own admission, she campaigned harder for her son, then-State's Atty. Richard M. Daley, for mayor than she ever did for her husband. Nearly every day she appeared at neighborhood coffees and talked to senior citizen groups on his behalf.

It wasn't until 1989, however, that she was able to celebrate her son's victory in a mayoral election. After his inauguration, Mrs. Daley again moved largely into the background, as she did when her husband served as mayor.

It will never be fully known the extent of advice she offered to her husband or to any of her children, but during his 1999 campaign for re-election, the mayor said, "I think my mother gives very good political advice."

Her children, including the mayor, were frequent visitors to their mother's house.

"I have never seen sons more devoted to their mom," said a family friend who asked not to be identified. "These sons are in and out of the house all the time and not just when she's sick."

Mrs. Daley was devastated by the 1998 death of her child Eleanor, called "Ellie." A teacher like her sisters, Ellie had lived with her mother and was her constant companion. She had been hospitalized as her health failed, but as the close-knit family would have it, she died at home under hospice care.

It was "a hard adjustment" for his mother, Richard Daley said after his sister's death. "It's been difficult, but other daughters and nieces and nephews are all around, so it has really helped her. She is very strong."

Early in 1999, Mrs. Daley was hospitalized for tests after an irregular heartbeat.

Later that year, Mrs. Daley's last surviving sibling, Cecilia Green, died at the age of 90.

In March 1999, on his mother's 92nd birthday, Daley told reporters that grandchildren and great-grandchildren were among the family members who planned to "to go to [my mom's] house to celebrate a nice dinner" that evening. And Mrs. Daley would do the cooking, he said.

"She is in really good shape," the mayor said. "I thank God. She has been a wonderful mother and grandmother and great-grandmother. It is amazing the things she knows about the history of Chicago and people. ... I think one of the greatest lessons you can learn from my mother is respect for one another."

Her public appearances have been few in recent years, though on March 4, 2000, Mrs. Daley acted as hostess of Chicago's 163rd birthday party at the Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue.

Speaking of the members of her family, she said, "They love Chicago and dedicated their lives to making it a better city. We've had a lot of happy memories."

Mrs. Daley stole the show. Her presence delighted members of the crowd, who chatted with her and snapped pictures of her on the arm of her son, the mayor, who said, "The city's been wonderful to me and my family."

Mrs. Daley continued to enjoy listening to music and reading, and rooting for her beloved White Sox. She surely took great pride in the accomplishments of her children and their children's children.

She watched as son William was named a member of President Bill Clinton's second-term Cabinet as the nation's secretary of commerce and then to assume the presidency of SBC Communications, parent company of Ameritech. while son John served as finance chairman of the Cook County Board.

Mrs. Daley visited the grave of her late husband twice a week well into her 90s.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Tribune staff reporters Rick Pearson and Joseph Sjostrom contributed to this story.

Eleanor 'Sis' Daley

Born in Chicago on March 4, 1907. She was the eighth of 11 children of Patrick and Nora Guilfoyle.

- Graduated from St. Mary's High School.

- Graduated from St. Bridget's Commercial School.

June 1936: Married Richard J. Daley

The two would have seven children: Patricia, Mary Carol, Eleanor, Richard, Michael, John and William.

1955: Richard J. elected mayor of Chicago and served until his death.

1960s: Worked with Chicago Beautiful Committee, the Valentine Chicago Girls Club and helped raise funds for the American Cancer Society

1971: Complained at local grocery store to have Mike Royko's book "Boss" pulled from shelves because it was critical of her husband.

1976: Richard J. dies. Stands by his bier in Bridgeport's Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church and thanks thousands of people who attend wake.

1989: Richard M. elected mayor.

1999: Hospitalized for irregular heartbeat.

March 4, 2000: Served as hostess for Chicago's 163rd birthday. She said: " The city's been wonderful to me and my family."

Sunday: Died of an apparent stroke at her home in Bridgeport. She was 95.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
Published online on Feb. 17, 2003 courtesy of Legacy.com.
Read More
Give others a chance to express condolences. Not right now.