A politically savvy straight-shooter, Lucille “Jackie” Gallagher was probably the most powerful spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union in decades.
Mrs. Gallagher was a seasoned aide to House Speaker Michael Madigan when she was persuaded to leave the halls of the Illinois Capitol in 1991 to join the CTU as assistant to then-President Jacqueline Vaughn and as head of CTU communications.
Having worked for Madigan and before that, as a lobbyist, Mrs. Gallagher was able to “provide entry to some of the most important politicians in Springfield for the CTU,’’ said former CTU recording secretary Pam Massarsky. “Most especially, she had this remarkable relationship with Mike Madigan. It was both professional and personal. She had entry whenever she needed it.’’
Mrs. Gallagher died April 22 at age 85.
She also forged a strong relationship with Vaughn. The two often lunched together, strategized together, sat in Vaughn’s office together and tried to “figure out the next step,’’ Massarsky said.
Mrs. Gallagher knew Vaughn’s thinking — and the union’s position — inside-out, to the point that if a reporter called with a question during the tumultuous 1990s, she answered it without checking with the president.
And she didn’t hesitate to shoot a public zinger. When Mayor Richard M. Daley called for round-the-clock talks to resolve a funding crisis that delayed the 1993 opening of Chicago Public Schools, Mrs. Gallagher told one Chicago Sun-Times reporter: “It’s easy to say [that] when you’re not here. This process isn’t supposed to be suicidal. . . . That doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.’’
She labeled a vote by Chicago School Board members to delay opening day for a week “Looney Tunes.’’
“She did not pull any punches,’’ said Gail Purkey, who served on Madigan’s staff with Mrs. Gallagher and later was her communications counterpart at the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
“She tried to be straightforward with reporters, and I think she was high-profile because of that,’’ Purkey said.
Mrs. Gallagher grew up in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood and attended Providence High School, where friends gave her the nickname “Jackie,” based on her maiden name, Jaacks. The moniker stuck for the rest of her life.
She married William J. Gallagher, a fellow member of St. Genevieve Parish, while both were students at the Art Institute of Chicago, and she later left school to have the first of four children.
She filled the couple’s Arlington Heights home with art, books and music — three of her passions. But John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential run ignited another: politics.
Mrs. Gallagher proudly put a Democratic campaign poster of Kennedy in the large picture window of her red-brick ranch home and never looked back, despite being surrounded by Republican neighbors.
“She was very dedicated. From the first moment she was interested in politics, she was in it wholeheartedly,’’ said her eldest daughter, Audrey Gallagher. “She never hesitated and was never afraid to make her views public, even when they were not popular.’’
Mrs. Gallagher took one daughter to see Kennedy land at a Chicago airport and brought another to a Kennedy rally.
“We wore campaign buttons after that. I think mom wore one every day,’’ Audrey Gallagher said. “After that, she involved us four kids in everything political.”
The Gallagher children grew up stuffing political envelopes and working phone banks. Their mom led them through the presidential campaigns of Democrats Jimmy Carter and George McGovern.
Mrs. Gallagher lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; was an alternate to the 1972 Democratic Convention;and served as a Carter delegate to the 1976 Democratic Convention. She was a key fundraiser for Democrat Paul Simon’s 1984 U.S. Senate campaign and walked precincts in Iowa when Simon ran for president.
Years later, in her 80s, Mrs. Gallagher wasn’t afraid to promote an anti-Iraq war message.
“We had posters on trees about ‘Stop the War, Save the Soldiers,’ ” Audrey Gallagher recalled.
Mrs. Gallagher instructed the kids to “put them higher and higher in the trees because the neighbors would pull them down.’’
After consultant work as a lobbyist, Mrs. Gallagher was one of the original staffers hired by then-Democratic leader Madigan in 1981 and watched him rise to speaker of the House in 1983.
“She brought a lot of enthusiasm,’’ said current Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. “She helped a lot of young staffers learn the ropes and mature. She was always quick to speak her mind, to point out the direction we should be going.’’
From 1991 to 2003, Mrs. Gallagher brought that straightforwardness to the CTU as the union struggled with the fallout from a 1995 bill that gave Daley control of the city’s public schools. She served both Vaughn and Vaughn’s successor, Tom Reece, as CTU spokeswoman.
In 2003, Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed her chair of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. Michael Hade, a fellow board member at the time, said Mrs. Gallagher may have been “strong-willed “ and even “opinionated” but she listened with an open mind.
“There were times when I disagreed with her and sometimes she shifted over and said, ‘Yeah, you are right.’ That takes a lot of courage,” Hade said.
Mrs. Gallagher was an avid reader, soaking up the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Herald and the New York Times every day. She read mysteries, books by women and books about women — sometimes two at a time.
“When I grew up, our dining room was full of books,’’ said another daughter, Jane Gallagher. “When my sister and I moved out, she took that room and turned it into a library.’’
She also “absolutely loved gardening. She loved playing in the dirt,’’ Jane Gallagher said. And she was such a music fan, particularly jazz, that she could “hold her own with musicians” on remembering other musicians’ names.
Mrs. Gallagher was a strong backer of women in politics, and served on the founding board of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership, which trained women for roles in Illinois government and politics.
In addition to her two daughters, she is survived by her son, Hugh; brothers Louis and Richard Jaacks; her former husband, William Gallagher; and a grandson. She was preceded in death by another son, Paul.
A celebration of her life is tentatively planned for June 7, which would have been her 86th birthday.