By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Maggie Daley, the wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and a driving force for the arts and education in the city, died on Thursday, current Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. She was 68.
Daley was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2002 but continued to make public appearances and downplayed her illness despite numerous trips to the hospital.
Some political observers attributed the emotional drain of her illness in part to her husband's retirement this year after a city record 22 years in office.
"Chicago has lost a warm and gracious First Lady who contributed immeasurably to our city. While Mayor Daley served as the head of this city, Maggie was its heart," Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff who won election to succeed Daley, said in a statement.
Born Margaret Ann Corbett in Pittsburgh, the only girl among seven children of an auto parts dealer, she came to Chicago to participate in a management training program and met Daley at a 1970 Christmas party.
Daley was then an attorney being groomed for politics by his father, long-time mayor and Democratic political boss Richard J. Daley.
The couple married and moved into the Daley clan's Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport and had four children. A son Kevin was born with the congenital disease spina bifida and died at age 3, which had a profound impact on his parents.
Daley was elected mayor in 1989, and his wife was a behind-the-scenes force who took up civic causes and focused on the arts.
She started an after-school arts education program, which now has some 20,000 participants. The city's inspector general revealed this year that companies with government business were frequently told to channel charitable contributions to her pet project, a revelation that irked her sometimes volatile and always protective husband.
In an impassioned speech she gave in 2000, the Chicago Tribune quoted her as saying: "Chicago is a city of literature and a city of music. Writers have loved the city's grit and moxie; its rawhide style of urban survival.
"The people who make this city great are tough customers, even when beat. Our kind of hustling, forward-looking energy have focused the arts -- have sharpened their blades. Chicago is a jazz town, a gospel town, and the home of the blues," she said.
Photographs of Maggie Daley at her daughter Elizabeth "Lally" Daley's recent marriage ceremony showed her smiling broadly, as always.
(Reporting by Andrew Stern. Editing by Peter Bohan)