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Final Farewell To A Feisty Barrier Breaker, Mayor Jane Byrne

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago was paying a last tribute Monday to its first and only female mayor, as funeral services were held for Jane Byrne at the church where her mother attended grammar school, and her grandparents were early members.

Known as a trailblazer, not only for breaking the proverbial glass ceiling for women in Chicago politics, but for how her visions shaped Chicago's culture today, Byrne died Friday at the age of 81, of complications from a stroke she suffered in 2013.

Byrne's funeral focused on much more than just her political life, but also her family.

She came to power in 1979, defeating incumbent Michael Bilandic, by riding a wave of support fueled by her criticism of Bilandic's mishandling of the infamous 1979 blizzard, which crippled the city.

In defeating the Democratic Machine and the Good Old Boys network at City Hall, Byrne served as a feisty symbol of hope for other women throughout Chicago.

Jane Byrne Casket
Former Mayor Jane Byrne's casket is carried into St. Vincent de Paul Parish for her funeral. The city's first and only female mayor, Byrne died on Nov. 14, 2014, at the age of 81. (Credit: CBS)

Many of the events and attractions that have come to symbolize Chicago were either started by Byrne, or were ideas she helped develop. She started the Taste of Chicago in 1980, and initiated open-air farmers markets; envisioned the redevelopment of the Museum Campus, and a major renovation of Navy Pier as a tourist destination; and was the first to talk about expanding O'Hare International Airport.


On Monday, a who's who of Chicago politics showed up to pay tribute to Byrne at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Lincoln Park – including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, and Cook County Commissioner John Daley.

"You look back on her contribution to the city … and her life, and people will remember her as a woman who broke barriers, and gave so much hope to women and people of the city of Chicago," Daley said.

Jane Byrne
Portrait of Jane Byrne. (Credit: Chicago History Museum)

Before a two-hour wake at the church, Byrne's casket was driven past her childhood home in the Sauganash neighborhood, in a hearse brought in from Germany especially for this occasion.

After the casket – draped in the Chicago flag – was later brought to the church, a police color guard carried Byrne from the hearse into the sanctuary, with her daughter and other family members following behind.

To this day, Byrne is the only woman to serve as mayor of a U.S. city as large as Chicago, an accomplishment that has cemented her place in history.

"She was a fighter, she was feisty, she got things done, in spite of all the chaos that was going on in the city at the time," Madigan said. "It really said, I think, to young girls growing up, and women, you can be involved in politics, you can be successful, and you can get things done."

Angel Correa held political fundraisers for Byrne at his home, drove the former mayor to campaign stops and used some questionable campaign antics.

"I worked for Chicago Tribune I used to stuff her literature inside the newspaper and throw them to the people," Correa said.

Byrne's daughter Kathy says the former mayor appreciated the recognition during the last few months of her life.

"Judging from the letters and cards and notes that my mother has received…it has really opened up an entire new generation of Chicagoans to be aware of her contributions to the city," Kathy said.

Following her funeral, Byrne was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston. A guestbook will be available this week at City Hall for fans and friends to write their remembrances of Jane Byrne.

Jane Byrne
Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne at the University of Chicago campus for the dedication of the Storm Sewer Project, February 1982. (Credit: Chicago History Museum)
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