Maggie Daley, who dedicated herself to children’s issues and the arts while also zealously guarding her family’s privacy during 22 years as Chicago’s First Lady, died a little after 6 p.m. Thursday, more than nine years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 68.

Mrs. Daley was surrounded by her husband and family members at her home, according to Jacquelyn Heard, a family friend and the former mayor's spokeswoman.

"The mayor and his family would like to thank the people of Chicago for the kindness they have shown Mrs. Daley over the years, and they appreciate your prayers at this time," Heard said.

Mrs. Daley had been hospitalized several times since her diagnosis, and in recent years had often used a walker, crutches or wheelchair during public appearances. Yet she remained a study in upbeat and gracious perseverance, downplaying her own struggles and eager to cast a spotlight on the needs of others.

Dr. Steven Rosen, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, said he had seen Mrs. Daley this morning at her home, where in recent weeks she had been under the care of nurses and people from the center's support care program.

He was called again to the home again between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., and arrived about the time of her death.

"She was comfortable," Rosen said. "She died at home, with the mayor, their children and his siblings there."

Rosen, who had cared for Mrs. Daley since 2002, when the cancer had already spread to her lungs, liver and bones, marveled at her resilience.

"She was heroic," he said. "The way she dealt with it was great. She had great dignity, and she was an inspiration for all of us. She was a remarkable woman. All of us are blessed that she was in our lives."

As her husband Richard Daley ruled Chicago, she usually sought to avoid the limelight. But in the background she wielded great influence over her husband, and he in turn used his power to benefit causes she championed—from transforming Meigs Field into a nature park to showering public funds on an after school charity she founded. When questions were raised about such activities, the former mayor often grew agitated and defensive.

After what a family spokeswoman described as “a difficult summer” for Mrs. Daley, she attended the Nov. 17 wedding of her daughter Elizabeth “Lally” Daley to Sam Hotchkiss at the upscale Spiaggia restaurant on North Michigan Avenue.

The event had been set for New Year’s Eve, but was suddenly moved up in apparent deference to Mrs. Daley’s failing health. In wedding photos Mrs. Daley was with her family, beaming as always.

The day before Thanksgiving, the former mayor cancelled a trip to speak Harvard and other travel plans. Those close to Mrs. Daley and her husband said the couple had an exceptionally close relationship through their almost 40 years of marriage.

“They thrill at traveling, love movies and often laugh at the same things,” TV and film producer Donna La Pietra told the Tribune in 2010. “These are two people who watch over each other, without being cloying or dysfunctionally protective.”

Margaret Ann Corbett was born on July 21, 1943, the youngest and only girl among seven children of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick L. Corbett of Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb where her father owned and operated an auto parts dealership.

She attended St. Francis Academy high school and, after graduating from the University of Dayton in Ohio, entered a management-training program with the Xerox Corp.

It was a position that eventually took her to Chicago and a job as a sales representative for Xerox Learning Systems.

She had promised her father that she would only spend two years in Chicago before returning to the Pittsburgh area. But at a 1970 Christmas party she met and was smitten by Richard M. Daley, then a 27-year-old attorney and the oldest son of then Mayor Richard J. Daley, the political boss of Chicago since 1955.

By the following November, the younger Daley and Maggie Corbett had become engaged. they were married in March 1972, in Pennsylvania. Her brother, the Rev. John Corbett, was the celebrant of the mass. Daley's attendants were his three brothers, Michael, John and William. Daley’s father and mother, Eleanor, sat in the front row of the St. Francis Retreat House.