Meg Rooney will be laid to rest next to her husband at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery under a headstone engraved “What a Wonderful World.”
It was their song, the one they danced to at their wedding.
Mrs. Rooney, 57, died Sunday at Advocate Christ Medical Center of complications from stomach cancer. Her death came less than four years after her husband John Rooney, a longtime reporter for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, died from ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease.
She worked for 17 years as a counselor and case manager at Kellogg Elementary School on the South Side, where she coordinated help for children with learning differences. Mrs. Rooney connected parents and students with psychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and social workers.
“She was a fighter for the most vulnerable,” said Cory Overstreet, the school’s principal.
She worked with a quiet grace, diplomacy and affection, those who knew her said. Kids saw her office as a refuge.
“If you were a child coming to school and you were having a bad day and they were upset, they’d say, ‘Can I go see Mrs. Rooney?’ ” said Diane Pajkos, international baccalaureate coordinator at Kellogg, 9241 S. Leavitt Ave.
“Kids loved her. They know if somebody’s real or fake,” Overstreet said, “and you didn’t get realer than Meg Rooney.”
She organized “peace circles” for mediating student disputes and started a program that showed it was “cool to be kind,” according to the principal.
Mrs. Rooney bestowed stuffed toy wolves — the school mascot — for good behavior. Every month, “She would announce the winner with the biggest smile,” Overstreet said.
Young Meg grew up the daughter of Jim and Maryirene Clarke. Her father was a Chicago police officer, and her mother also worked at Kellogg as a counselor. She enjoyed swimming at Evergreen Aqua Park and playing at Ridge Park. She stayed close with the cousins and friends she grew up with in Beverly.
She attended Christ the King grade school and Mother McAuley high school. In her teens, she worked as an Andy Frain usher. Her first assignment at Comiskey Park was the first game after the infamous Disco Demolition night.
While at Illinois State University, where she majored in special education, she started a summer job in guest services with the White Sox. She continued working summers there until last year.
“Meg was the first smiling face to greet many of Chicago’s VIPs, special guests with disabilities, our team investors, families of our players and staff,” said Howard Pizer, a senior executive vice president with the Sox.
“In some cases, she pushed wheelchairs,” said Julie Taylor, senior director of guest services. On hot days, “Meg, without being told, was getting water, cold cloths” to help guests cool down.
“She measured her life in how she cared and gave to others,” said her brother John.
She met her future husband at a Lincoln Park sports bar, where they came in second in a dance contest.
They raised their three boys in Beverly.
“Meg and John were exceptional parents, and the results and the proof is in their three boys,” her brother said. “Jack is a reporter [at the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire], Ned just graduated Notre Dame law school, and Dan will be teaching at Red Cloud Indian School” on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Mrs. Rooney often brought Jell-O desserts to family gatherings, which earned her the nickname “Aunt Jell-O.” She had a variety of Jell-O molds for holidays and even a mold of the United States. “The kids at the party would fight over who got Texas or California,” said Dan, “because that was the biggest piece of Jell-O.”
After her husband’s ALS diagnosis, “She did everything she could to make sure he got the care he needed, that he was comfortable,” said their son Ned.
Mrs. Rooney volunteered with Les Turner ALS Foundation support groups, listening to new members and calming their fears.
After her cancer diagnosis, she didn’t question: Why me? Instead, her view, according to her son Jack, was this: “If it had to be anyone, the Rooneys can handle it.”
In addition to her parents and her brother John, she is survived by her sister Maura Saas and brother Jim. A livestream of a family service is planned Thursday at https://asimplestreaming.godaddysites.com/rooney. A memorial mass will be held at a later date.
Mrs. Rooney was a big fan of the concept of a school “buddy bench,” where a kid who was having a bad day could sit, take a breather and welcome a friend.
Overstreet said Kellogg staffers plan to install a buddy bench in her memory, with some saplings and a birdhouse nearby.
“Meg was a believer when you see a cardinal, it was the spirit of somebody who passed away,” he said. “Sometimes, she’d come in and say, ‘I saw John today.’ ”