Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago’s first fe­male avi­a­tion com­mis­sioner

- BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man Celebrities · Mary · Philadelphia · Richard M. Daley · Chicago Midway International Airport · Southwest Airlines · Saint Patrick · San Diego · Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd. · Jay-Z · Pittsburgh · Sally Field · Las Vegas · Philadelphia International Airport · Philadelphia International Records · Ed Rendell

“MARY ROSE, AS SWEET AS SHE WAS, TOOK CRAP FROM NO­BODY. SHE WOULD DO ANY­THING FOR ANY­BODY. BUT YOU HAD BET­TER NOT CROSS HER.”

RANDY SCHRADER, Mary Rose Loney’s hus­band

Mary Rose Loney looked like a blonde ver­sion of “Gid­get,” the sit­com char­ac­ter played by ac­tress Sally Field. But Loney was tough as nails — and she needed to be.

In 1996, she be­came the first woman to serve as Chicago’s avi­a­tion com­mis­sioner. She took on clout-heavy con­trac­tors who had a long ride on the gravy train of con­tracts at O’Hare and Mid­way air­ports.

Ms. Loney, 68, died Tues­day, said Den­nis Cul­lo­ton, who served un­der Loney as Avi­a­tion De­part­ment spokesman.

Af­ter Ms. Loney was slow to re­cover from a frac­tured pelvis suf­fered when she fell in their Las Ve­gas drive­way, her hus­band, Randy Schrader, took her to a hos­pi­tal in late Au­gust. Doc­tors found lung cancer that had gone un­de­tected for months and al­ready had metas­ta­sized. She never left the hos­pi­tal.

“She had framed on her wall an edi­to­rial from the Philadel­phia news me­dia prais­ing her ten­ure at the air­port there as ‘Hell on heels.’ She was a small per­son. She al­ways dressed to the nines. She took her ap­pear­ance se­ri­ously. But she was fear­less,” Cul­lo­ton said.

Schrader added, “Mary Rose, as sweet as she was, took crap from no­body. She would do any­thing for any­body. But you had bet­ter not cross her.”

Now-for­mer Mayor Richard M. Da­ley was so im­pressed with Ms. Loney’s tal­ents, he sum­moned her to Chicago twice.

Af­ter Da­ley’s 1989 election, Ms. Loney spent four years as first deputy avi­a­tion com­mis­sioner. She left to run Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port af­ter an of­fer she couldn’t refuse from then-Philadel­phia Mayor Ed Ren­dell, who would be­come a close per­sonal friend.

In 1996, Da­ley lured Ms. Loney back to O’Hare, this time as avi­a­tion com­mis­sioner. At the time, the Da­ley ad­min­is­tra­tion was un­der siege for con­tract crony­ism at O’Hare. His then-City Council floor leader, Ald. Pa­trick Huels (11th), was un­der scru­tiny (and would be forced to re­sign af­ter a con­tract­ing scan­dal in 1997).

Da­ley ob­vi­ously hoped Ms. Loney’s ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion as an avi­a­tion pro­fes­sional would make the head­lines go away.

Ms. Loney did just that, an­nounc­ing that 100% of con­tracts at O’Hare and Mid­way would be com­pet­i­tively bid.

“An in­sider then called a col­league of mine and ut­tered what should go down as a fa­mous quote about Chicago pol­i­tics,” Cul­lo­ton said.

“The per­son said of Mary Rose, ‘What she don’t un­der­stand is that 100 per­cent don’t mean 100 per­cent.’ ... Mary Rose ig­nored it and we pressed on. She knew that not only was the air­port sys­tem well-served by com­pet­i­tive con­tracts, but the mayor was as well.”

Schrader ac­knowl­edged Ms Loney didn’t win the bat­tle over con­tracts, but “she fought it and left an im­pres­sion on that bat­tle . ... There be­came a new deco­rum of how to ne­go­ti­ate those deals ... be­cause Mary Rose was there to try and make sure it was a more fair, more square deal.”

In four years as com­mis­sioner, she was also cred­ited with de­vel­op­ing a long-term cap­i­tal pro­gram for O’Hare, launch­ing the Mid­way Air­port ter­mi­nal de­vel­op­ment project and mak­ing count­less se­cu­rity im­prove­ments at both air­ports. South­west Air­lines also planted its flag at Mid­way.

Ms. Loney and Schrader were mar­ried only three years, but had a 25-year ro­mance that be­gan when Schrader ap­proached Ms. Loney with a pro­posal for a new power gen­er­a­tion plant that, he said, could save Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port a lot of money.

Schrader owned a com­pany that built power plants, but ended up ad­vis­ing Ms. Loney to re­new the ex­ist­ing power con­tract af­ter the in­cum­bent mu­nic­i­pal power com­pany made a counter-of­fer to re­duce rates.

He then asked Ms. Loney: “We’re not go­ing to do the en­ergy trans­ac­tion, but will you at least have din­ner with me?”

Af­ter years of propos­ing, Schrader fi­nally per­suaded Loney to marry him on St. Pa­trick’s Day 2017 in San Diego, of­fi­cially be­com­ing Mary Rose Loney Schrader on the 22nd an­niver­sary of their first kiss.

The cou­ple re­cently moved to Las Ve­gas to be closer to fam­ily.

Through tears, Schrader de­scribed be­ing un­able to see his wife un­til the 18th day of her hos­pi­tal­iza­tion be­cause of pan­demic pre­cau­tions.

When he fi­nally ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal, she was in a coma.

“When she didn’t hear me, what I said to her was that I loved her. That I al­ways would. And I thanked her for mak­ing my life com­plete,” Schrader said.

“I told her to go run the air­port in heaven. I’m sure she has al­ready ap­plied for that job.”

Schrader de­scribed his wife as “the most car­ing per­son” he had ever known.

“She was one of those peo­ple that you had to be care­ful say­ing, ‘I would like to do this’ or ‘I want that.’ Be­cause the next thing you know, she was plan­ning it or get­ting it. She cared more dra­mat­i­cally for other peo­ple than al­most any­body I’ve ever known,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to Schrader, sur­vivors in­clude: sis­ters Molly Ku­bin­canek, Katey Fox and Shawn Dahn; brother Jack Loney; nu­mer­ous nieces and neph­ews.

Pri­vate ser­vices will be held in Ms. Loney’s home­town of Pitts­burgh.

 ?? SUN-TIMES FILES ?? Mary Rose Loney at O’Hare Air­port in 1998.
SUN-TIMES FILES Mary Rose Loney at O’Hare Air­port in 1998.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA