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Virginia Halas McCaskey celebrates 100th birthday
Story by Larry Mayer

Editor's note: This story originally ran on Jan. 5, 2023, Virginia Halas McCaskey's 100th birthday

Virginia Halas McCaskey will celebrate her 100th birthday Thursday, a joyous and momentous occasion to be sure, but not one the matriarch of the Chicago Bears wants to make a fuss about. 

"She put us on notice months ago that she did not want a big deal made and she wanted a quiet, small family celebration," said her son, Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, who plans to abide by his mother's wishes. 

The only daughter of legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer George Halas, Mrs. McCaskey has served as the Bears' principal owner since her father's death in 1983. But she has been closely involved with the storied franchise for her entire life. 

Mrs. McCaskey was born on Jan. 5, 1923, less than three years after her father founded the Bears as the Decatur Staleys and helped create what would become the NFL. As a toddler, she accompanied her dad and the team during the Red Grange barnstorming tour in 1925-26. In 1932, Mrs. McCaskey attended the NFL's first indoor game, watching the Bears capture the league championship by blanking the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 at the Chicago Stadium. 

No one on earth has witnessed as much pro football history as Mrs. McCaskey. In the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook, a 320-page keepsake created in 2019 that chronicles the franchise's first 100 years, Mrs. McCaskey recalls Grange, who was football's most popular superstar in his day, carrying her in front of him through train stations so fans wouldn't recognize him and mob him for autographs. 

She also remembers the unpleasant smell that permeated the Chicago Stadium during the 1932 game—which was moved indoors because of harsh winter weather—saying: "The circus had been there the week before, and it still smelled of animals."

"I think I read that she has been alive for every NFL game except for like 36, which is spectacular," said Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips. "I have always wanted to sit down with her and hear her stories and hear her perspective on the growth of the NFL because I know that it would be fascinating."

Throughout the years, Mrs. McCaskey has occasionally shared some of those stories when addressing Bears players at team meetings.  

"Just her being the daughter of George Halas—who started NFL football—when she walked in the room, she commanded that respect because of who she is," said former long-snapper Patrick Mannelly, whose 16 seasons with the Bears from 1998-2013 make him the longest tenured player in franchise history. "It was an honor for us to have her talk to us as a team. Anytime she spoke, we all listened. 

"She's just a very special person. I think everybody would like to live a life like hers and be like her. She's an amazing, impressive person."

George McCaskey describes his mother's greatest qualities as her "grace, quiet dignity, humility and gratitude," and reveals that she continues to inspire him "every day in every way" with "a remarkable combination of grit and grace."

"She's the guiding force behind everything we do here, and everybody knows that, including the guys in the locker room," he said. 

The most impactful lesson George has learned from his mother is to "be grateful for all that we have, for this tremendous and unique opportunity that we've been given and be mindful of the responsibility that it carries with it."


Papa Bear 'delighted' to have daughter

George Halas revealed in his autobiography that he and his wife, Min, were expecting a boy when Min was pregnant with Virginia: "The initial shock over, I was delighted with my daughter," Halas wrote. "I began immediately plying her with orange juice—the fad at the time for young babies—and stories of the Bears."

During grade school when a group of boys were bragging to Virginia about meeting Cubs star Gabby Harnett, she countered by mentioning that she personally knew Grange. When the boys refused to believe her, she returned to school with an autographed photo of Grange that read: "Dear Virginia, Sure, I do know you and I think you're swell, Red Grange."

Mrs. McCaskey attended Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she studied business management. It was there that she met her future husband, who was a student at the University of Pennsylvania and also sang in a band at local dance halls. Virginia married Ed McCaskey Feb. 2, 1943—on her father's 48th birthday. Ed soon left for Europe to fight in World War II, serving in the Army.

The McCaskeys were married for 60 years until Ed passed away April 8, 2003, at the age of 83. Devout Catholics, they raised 11 children in a family that now includes 21 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. Three of Ed and Virginia's eight sons currently work full-time for the Bears: George is joined by vice presidents Patrick and Brian.

The McCaskeys' oldest child, Michael, served as Bears president from 1982-99 and chairman from 1999 until his retirement in 2011. Michael passed away May 16, 2020, at the age of 76. The McCaskeys' second oldest child, Tim, served as a Bears vice president from 1993 until his death Jan. 30, 2011.

Favorite moments

One of Mrs. McCaskey's fondest memories was watching the Bears beat the New York Giants 14-10 to win the 1963 NFL Championship at frigid Wrigley Field.

In a 2014 interview on the team-produced "Inside the Bears" television show, Mrs. McCaskey remembered that it was a "cold, cold, cold day." 

"In those days we were sitting outside," she said. "There were no executive suites. We had everything we could think of to keep warm. Before that season and even during that season, my dad was still coaching at age 68 and some people thought he should be retired, and he showed them."

Mrs. McCaskey revealed on the same show that another favorite memory came Jan. 21, 2007, at Soldier Field when she accepted the NFC championship trophy that's named after her father following a victory over the New Orleans Saints that sent the Bears to the Super Bowl.

"It was a glorious time," she said. "We had four generations of family on the field."

Phillips recalls Mrs. McCaskey beaming with pride late in the Bears' 39-14 win. 

"We were all on the sideline waiting because we knew the game was [decided] and the clock was ticking down," Phillips said. "It started to snow, and the crowd just erupted, and I remember looking at Virginia's face and she had the most wonderful smile. 

"That was an amazing moment. Talking about it now, I still get chills just being part of it and being around her at that moment when the crowd was going wild."

To this day, Phillips is amazed every time he speaks with Mrs. McCaskey.

"She's a woman of few words, but every time she talks, she says something really profound and meaningful," Phillips said. "It's truly been a blessing to be around her for all these years, and I hope the good Lord keeps her healthy for a lot more."

In honor of Virginia Halas McCaskey's 101st birthday, take a look at photos of the Bears owner through the years.

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