Georgia Sheehan, who made chocolate-covered cherries and other treats on a Fannie May assembly line on the West Side for 25 years, loved slot machines, strong perfume and stiff highballs, according to her family.
“ ‘If anything is good, more is better’ — that’s how she lived her life,” said her daughter Donna Badon.
She’d attend every baptism, first Communion, confirmation, wedding, birthday, holiday and funeral in her big Irish family. She liked to sing, dance and have a good meal. And she didn’t stand on ceremony. She’d take out her partial dentures and put them on the table if it made it easier to eat.
At parties, you’d find “George” belting out “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” or Irish songs like “Take Me Home to Mayo” and “Mick McGilligan’s Ball.”
When her granddaughter Rilee Burke was finishing college, “Gram asked me how many ‘Cum Laudes’ were graduating — and were they all related?” Burke said.
Mrs. Sheehan had a joshingly good relationship with her sons-in-law. When they came home from work, she’d ask what they did that day. If the answer was, “Nothing,” she’d ask, “Why’d you bother goin’?”
“To keep your a-- in comfort,” would come the reply. And everybody in the Sheehan clan would cackle, Donna Badon said.
If her kids missed curfew, the punishment usually involved helping her lay tile or put up wallpaper, according to Burke.
Services were held last month for Mrs. Sheehan, who worked 25 years as a candy dipper for Fannie May. She died at 94 at Rush University Medical Center after having strokes, according to her daughter Jean Hartford.
Terry McEldowney — one of the composers of the “South Side Irish” anthem — sang at the funeral, held at the church where Mrs. Sheehan was baptized, married and buried: St. Gabe’s, 4500 S. Wallace St.
In the basket with her funeral prayer cards were Fannie May chocolate bars with a sign that read, “Have a treat on Georgia.”
Though the Catholic church often advises people to keep the music religious, McEldowney passed out the lyrics at the end of the service to “Georgia on My Mind,” and everyone began singing it, Badon said.
“She was great fun,” McEldowney said, recalling how, when he used to finish playing at the Flags Club on 47th Street, “We’d be packing up, and she’d still be dancing, having a good time.”
Young Georgia grew up in tight-knit Canaryville. She’d say of close acquaintances from the neighborhood, “We’re friends since the crib.”
After her father George died in a car accident six weeks before she was born, her mother Mary Peal moved in with Georgia’s grandmother Nan Conlisk. “There were some strong women there,” Badon said.
As a girl, Mrs. Sheehan had a closeup view of Chicago’s complex system of checks, balances and favors. “She said when the dog-catchers wanted a bottle of whiskey, they picked up the [family] dog, and they knew they’d get a bottle of whiskey to get the dog back home,” Badon said.
After St. Gabe’s grade school, she went to Mercy High School. She liked going to Riverview amusement park and seeing movies downtown.
She met her husband Eugene, who was a Sun-Times pressman, in the neighborhood. They were married in 1946 and had six children and a string of dogs.
Once her youngest child Tricia was in school, Mrs. Sheehan started a job on the Fannie May assembly line at Jackson Boulevard and Racine Avenue, coming home smelling of sugar and cream.
Often, she worked on the chocolate-covered cherries. It wasn’t so easy. “You had to get that swirl on the top perfect, or it got sold in the outlet store,” Badon said.
Her own favorite Fannie May treat? The “Carmarsh” — a caramel-marshmallow concoction.
She loved hosting Sunday dinners, where she’d serve roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. But Mrs. Sheehan freely admitted she wasn’t much of a cook. “She always said that it skipped a generation,” Badon said.
“I remember when George told my mom she didn’t care for the ice cream bars we had in the freezer,” Burke said in a eulogy, “and my mom had to let her know that she probably didn’t like them much because they were doggie ice cream bars she had been eating.”
Mrs. Sheehan liked to watch “Dr. Phil” on TV. Her favorite singer was Engelbert Humperdinck. And she couldn’t resist products from Ron Popeil, the “But wait, there’s more” TV pitchman behind gadgets like the “Veg-o-Matic.” Family members would call her “Mrs. Popeil,” Burke said.
Her husband died in 1977, and her son Daniel died in 2006. She is also survived by daughters Gail Friedman and Tricia Burke, son Mickey, 12 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.