Writer Pat Somers Cronin, mom of 10, had a role in Piccolo legacy, dead at 91
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When Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo died of cancer at 26, his widow Joy Piccolo was ready to sell their Beverly home and move to Atlanta to be with her parents as she raised their three little girls.
But her neighbor Pat Somers Cronin, another young mom, helped convince the young widow that her life — and her husband’s legacy — were in Chicago.
“My parents really wanted me to go to Atlanta,” Joy Piccolo O’Connell said. “I was going to put the house on the market.”
Then, Mrs. Cronin spoke with her. Before she married James R. Cronin, a widower with four kids, and gave birth to six children, she’d written ad copy for department stores and contributed articles to the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Tribune. She knew how to be persuasive. And she believed God had a plan for Joy Piccolo.
“Pat, she came right over, and she said, ‘You don’t really want to go home” to Atlanta, Piccolo O’Connell said. ” ‘You’ll become a little girl all over again. You need to carry on and stay here. What’s meant to be will be.’
“She just made me think about stuff from a woman’s perspective,” Piccolo O’Connell said. “Brian was so meaningful to Chicago and Coach [George] Halas. I never would have stayed had she not talked to me.”
Services have been held for Mrs. Cronin, who died in November at 91 at Smith Village in Beverly.
The story of “Pic” wound up being immortalized in books and two TV movies portraying Piccolo’s courage and his friendship with Gale Sayers. The Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund at Rush University Medical Center has raised more than $8 million. Every year, the Bears select a rookie and a veteran to receive the Brian Piccolo Award. There have been been Piccolo golf classics and charity runs. Chicago has a Piccolo grade school. There are plans for a Chicago park to be named for him.
Mrs. Cronin “really felt a lot was going to happen in Brian’s memory,” Piccolo O’Connell said. “It was a good call.”
“She was a great neighbor,” said Piccolo O’Connell, who remarried, had two more children and still lives near Chicago.
Mrs. Cronin grew up in South Shore, the daughter of Helen and Walter Somers, a car dealer. She attended St. Xavier Academy high school and Rosary College, now Dominican University.
She wrote ad copy for Marshall Field’s, Carson’s and Sears and radio commercials for the Young & Rubicam ad agency.
At the Daily News, “I was among the first girls to be hired,” she once wrote. “The copy boys had gone to war and a precedent had to be broken. After that first summer at the News, I was called back the following year to help staff the City Desk, a plum assignment.”
At the Tribune, she contributed to a column, “White Collar Girl,” said her daughter Sheila M. Cronin. Mrs. Cronin also wrote book reviews for the Atlantic, the Sun-Times and the New World. In 1958, a piece she wrote on parochial schools was reprinted in Time magazine.
She was 28 when she locked eyes with her future husband, another parishioner from St. Philip Neri Catholic Church. A widower, he had four children ranging from 4 to 10. “She was coming out of the Chicago Athletic Club, and he was going in,” Sheila Cronin said. “They looked at each other, and they just knew. And I think he said, ‘Do you have time for lunch?’
“She certainly didn’t think twice. A strong theme in her life was ‘Thy will be done,’ ” her daughter said.
After they married in 1955, she wrote a piece for the Tribune saying she didn’t differentiate among their blended brood, which grew to 10 with the birth of six more children. “Please don’t ask, especially in front of all of us, which ones are mine,” she said. “You don’t have to bear a child to love a child.”
The Cronins ate together each night with candles and the good silver. Sheila Cronin said it taught her and her siblings that “every dinner with this family is special.”
In the 1960s, she earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Chicago. For 20 years, Mrs. Cronin wrote a column about neighborhood doings, “View from the Hill,” for the Beverly Review.
In the 1990s, she wrote letters and campaigned against a neighborhood system of culs-de-sac and traffic diverters that then-Ald. Ginger Rugai said would reduce crime. Mrs. Cronin likened them to a cement cage.
Her husband and daughter Ellyn Rose died before her. In addition to Sheila Cronin, she is survived by daughters Patricia Snead, Emily Chaveriat and Mary Ann Cronin,sons James Jr., John, Michael, Walter and Joseph, 33 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.