Chicago’s first female aviation commissioner
“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.