Sue Daly’s first trip out of the Midwest was a big one.
After the Davenport native married Joel Daly when she was 19, they spent their first two years together in the tropics of Panama, where her enlisted husband was doing radio and TV news in the U.S. Army.
“It was a two-year honeymoon,” said her husband, who became an ABC legend during 38 years of reporting and anchoring at WLS-TV in Chicago. “The Army provided things like deep-sea fishing and scuba diving….we would play charades for hours, go to 25-cent movies. We’d go into Panama City and they had a pizzeria.”
They had a yellow-headed Amazon parrot, Boop. After the bird heard a neighbor’s voice lessons, Boop began serenading them with arias.
“He was pretty good at it,” Joel Daly said.
They bought a car, a Nash Ambassador. But, “It wouldn’t go up hills very good, because it would get air in the gas and stop,” he said. “We’d make a run, and if you got to the top of the hill, you could coast down.”
“It was a great start to a marriage,” he said. “it was really, really simple. It was probably the best time of our lives, because we didn’t have any money.”
In 57 years of marriage, Mrs. Daly followed her husband’s broadcasting career to Cleveland and Chicago. When he started working at WLS in 1967, they settled in the La Grange area. Because he worked nights for 25 years, it was often up to her to handle the infinity of details that go with raising three kids: teething, illness, homework, dinnertime, teacher conferences.
“I don’t know how she did it, but she did it,” her husband said. “”She was a beauty.”
Mrs. Daly, 76, died Saturday of complications from lung cancer at their La Grange Highlands home.
She was 17 when her future husband spotted her at McCabe’s department store in Rock Island. It was the summer of ’55. She was buying white hosiery, a requirement for her nursing-school plans. He was on a lunch break from an announcing job at WHBF.
Complicating matters was the salesperson. “I was dating the girl who was selling her the hose,” Joel Daly said.
But he liked the way the young Sue Weis ribbed him about his wardrobe.
“In the Midwest at that time, very few people wore Bermuda shorts, and when I was introduced to her, she said, ‘What happened to your pants?’ ”
“And I thought, well, I kind of like this girl’s spirit,” he said.
He peered over her shoulder to get the name and address on her paperwork. “ I just surreptitiously made note of it,” he said, “and I called her a day or two later after I looked up her phone number.”
Her mother worried the broadcaster wouldn’t be able to make a living. But her father saw possibilities in the Montana native, who had attended Yale University on full scholarship.
When Joel Daley prepared to ship out to Panama, he proposed in a letter that said, “I’m going overseas and I don’t want to be without you.” To bolster his case, he added some math on Army benefits: “ ‘I make $76 a month, but you as a dependent would make $125.’ I laid it out like a businessman, and ‘Panama is supposed to be a pretty nice place to go.’ ” As for his pragmatic computations, “She kidded me about it a little bit,” he said. “Somewhere in this house is a box full of every letter I ever wrote” her.
She returned home to have their first child, Doug, in Rock Island. Then it was off to Cleveland, where her husband had landed a job at WGAR radio. Next he joined WLS in Chicago, paired with anchor Fahey Flynn. Mrs. Daly wasn’t sure about it. “A father-son Irish team, it’ll never work,” she told her husband. “That’s the only time she was ever wrong, and we let her know about it once in a while,” he said. The Flynn-Daly partnership lasted 18 years.
He got to be with the kids when they came home for lunch, but “it was tough, because I did the 10 o’clock news and I wouldn’t get home till 11:30 or a quarter to 12 and she’d be in bed,” he said. “Pretty much all of the weight was on her shoulders.”
In addition to caring for their three children, she took in 25 or so foster babies over the years, said their daughter, Kelly. Some were African-American, which raised eyebrows in the 1960s when Mrs. Daly went to the grocery store, she said. “It didn’t matter. If you ever saw ‘Steel Magnolias,’ she was Shirley MacLaine. She’d wear overalls with a mink, and never cared what people thought. That was part of her charm. She would invite ‘strays’ over at Thanksgiving. She was a good tipper with waitresses.”
Occasionally, her husband received threats from angry viewers over his political commentaries. Some said “We know where you live” or “We know where your kids are.” Then, he said, “I would tell her, ‘Go over to so-and-so’s house until I come home.’ ”
When they headed to their getaway in Delavan, Wis., she drove so he could shoehorn in two hours of study time in the car to earn a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. Whenever he traveled for work, he stopped at the duty-free shop to bring her home Chanel No. 5.
She loved reading, especially Robert Parker crime novels. “We knew she was really failing when she put a book down and didn’t pick it up again,” he said.
Feisty and irreverent, “She was a ‘Let’s sneak out and have a cigarette’ kind of gal,” her daughter said. “The best memory I have of her, they were invited to dinner at the White House. I think it was Nixon. And she stole the towels from the White House bathroom.” To her husband’s chagrin, “we would put them out every Christmas.”
The Dalys survived the loss of two sons. Doug Daly died of an asthmatic seizure in his early 50s. Scott Daly died in his early 40s. “His body just gave out from drugs,” his father said. “He just could not get off the stuff….it’s just awful. We did everything we could. It was really rough on us.”
Mrs. Daly is also survived by two granddaughters.
“Her ashes will be spread in Wisconsin, with Doug and Scott,” her husband said. “I hope there’s a heaven and she’s back with them.”