After a midlife divorce, Jerrolyn “Jerry” McCauley went back to college, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and opened a successful consulting business.
She taught her four girls to be financially independent and schooled her two boys that there was no such thing as women’s work or men’s work — only stuff to do.
Elegantly dressed, coiffed and lipsticked, she was always refined but never remote. A gently inquisitive manner enabled her to draw out conversation from introverted adults or withdrawn teenagers.
A generous gift-giver, she loved surprising relatives with presents, said her daughter, Colleen Shannon. She slipped her grandchildren extra scoops of ice cream and saved the last bite of whatever she was eating for Charlie, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel. She carried $5 in her pocket to dispense to anyone on the street who looked like they needed a break.
And though she loved her family fiercely, Jerry McCauley — like any strong matriarch — had rules.
One involved baking. To her, “It was against the law to bake with anything other than real butter,” said another daughter, Mary Carole McCauley.
She cooked and baked with the sounds of her beloved opera ringing from the radio, or the soundtrack to “Hello, Dolly” or “My Fair Lady.” She creamed butter and sugar until they were light and fluffy to make delicate kolacky with a recipe handed down from her Polish grandmother.
She also turned out tantalizing spaghetti and meatballs, apple pie, breaded pork chops, sugar cookies, meatloaf, cinnamon coffee cake and Swedish meatballs.
Mrs. McCauley’s pride in her children was immense. But she felt one had to do the right thing. In a long-ago and hypothetical conversation, she told her son, Jim, she couldn’t guarantee she would vote for him if he ever ran for U.S. president. He knew her love was unwavering. But, he said, her code of conduct required that “she was going to vote for whoever she felt was the best candidate.”
She died March 16 at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. Mrs. McCauley was 83.
Young Jerry grew up in Chicago and attended Immaculata High School.
When her eldest, Mary Carole, entered a university, “It was her passion to get a college degree,” her daughter said. She earned a bachelor’s from Mundelein College and a master’s in rehabilitative counseling from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Mrs. McCauley started her own business, advocating for people in workers’ compensation cases. She evaluated their work readiness and sometimes testified as an expert witness.
“Going to college and going to graduate school and opening her own company was this enormous accomplishment for her and took an enormous amount of bravery,” Mary Carole McCauley said.
Her children attribute their perseverance to her example, said another son, Tom. In her 40s and 50s, “She was working and going to school and started a business,” he said. “That speaks a lot to her determination.”
Mrs. McCauley enjoyed crossword puzzles and the Country Squire restaurant in Grayslake, said another daughter, Paula Rothacker. She loved roses, the color pink and shopping at Nordstrom.
She was proud of a distant tenor relative, Barry McCauley. And she thrilled at the singing of Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. She loved Luciano Pavarotti, but said she admired Placido Domingo more because of his humanitarian work. At her home, she displayed Beethoven and Mozart bobbleheads, a gift for her donations to WFMT, said another daughter, Kelly.
She enjoyed reading historical novels, works by Hilary Mantel, and “The Forsyte Saga.” On TV, she favored shows with moral choices and quandaries, such as “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”
After a fall in 2014 that caused a concussion, it took months to convalesce. Her children Kelly, Paul and Tom walked her dog four times a day, every day, for a year.
Mrs. McCauley hosted holiday gatherings filled with laughter from card and parlor games. For her 80th birthday, she wanted all her children to escort her to the opera. To make it happen, three flew in from out of town.
They will miss her opinions. “She never stopped telling us what to do,” said Mary Carole McCauley. Her last meal was a bowl of chocolate ice cream. “What that tells me,” she said, “is that in her last moment, she was still getting joy out of life.”
Mrs. McCauley is also survived by her sisters, Delphine Janusz, Mari Schala and Celeste Forbes; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A funeral Mass is planned at 11 a.m. March 29 at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 6401 Gages Lake Rd., Gurnee. Burial is to follow at Ascension Cemetery in Libertyville. Because her dog, Charlie, died several weeks ago, Mary Carole McCauley said, “We’ll probably put Charlie’s collar and leash in the casket.”
Jerry McCauley’s Kolacky recipe 3 sticks butter, softened 4 and 1/2 tsp. sugar 3 3-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened 3 and 3/4 C. flour 1. Preheat oven to 350° 2. Cream butter and add sugar; cream until fluffy. 3. Add cream cheese one at a time and mix well. 4. Add flour gradually. 5. Roll out thin and cut into squares. 6. Add canned filling (such as raspberry, almond, prune or apricot) and then fold up four corners. 7. Bake 15 – 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool.