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Nancy Daly and friends ... lots and lots of friends

October 22, 2009 | 10:58 am

She was a woman who ''moved mountains in those Manolos'' -- one of the many words of praise Carol Biondi had to say about her old friend Nancy Daly at a memorial celebration on Wednesday evening.

Hundreds of people filed into Royce Hall to honor Nancy's life and her work on behalf of children and the arts. Out in the darkened rows sat the movers and shakers of Los Angeles, from the police chief to a number of City Council members and major philanthropists and arts leaders, as well as some kids from MacLaren Hall, whose lot she worked for 30 years to improve.

It's a testament to how highly Nancy was regarded that for an hour and a half in Royce Hall, you didn't hear a peep or a bleep out of a single Blackberry or cellphone.

Nancy died on Oct. 2 after a long struggle against pancreatic cancer -- a feat in itself, because ''long struggle'' and ''pancreatic cancer'' are usually contradictory.

I call her Nancy because I'd known her for more than 10 years, first as a civic force and then as a friend. Former Assembly speaker Robert Hertzberg got smiles of recognition across Royce Hall when, in his remarks, he noted how many of us have opened our e-mail in the morning to find something from ''lovekidsla,''  Nancy's e-mail address.

''Pom Queen'' and philanthropist Lynda Resnick reminisced with humor about the first time she saw the petite, blond Nancy in the foyer of her house, and how she knew at once that they'd become great friends. LACMA director Michael Govan reflected on what so many had felt: Nancy's persuasive powers. In his case, she showed up on his doorstep and even followed him to Arizona to get him to leave his ''perfect'' life in New York to come to L.A. to head the museum.

And another speaker -- I didn't write down who -- pointed out that one of Nancy's great skills was being able to put forward an idea and not only get some powerful allies but convince them it had been their idea all along. Even Karl Rove, the speaker said, ended a meeting with Nancy believing that the concept of making foster kids' records electronic so they could be immediately accessible as they moved from foster home to foster home and school to school ... had been his own.

Children, art and music were her devotions, and almost every speaker emphasized that she made a national impact, from her United Friends of Children group and the Children's Action Network, which she helped to found, to serving on the President's Commission for Children.

And ranking above all of those pursuits, the audience heard time after time, was her family. Her three children by her first husband, entertainment executive Bob Daly, and her grandchildren listened to plaudit after plaudit, and added their own. Like how she didn't say a word when her daughter got a tattoo, or one son got his ear pierced. Lyricist/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, now married to Bob Daly, remembered with humor one family dinner with Bob Daly at one end of the table and Nancy at the other -- an extended-family get-together..

The evening began with a slide show of photos of Nancy's life narrated by Alan Alda -- childhood pictures, wedding pictures, mom pictures, Hollywood pictures, pictures of her after her cancer treatment, when her fair, straight hair grew back in as curly as a lamb's. "Do you really like it?" she had asked me, after I told her how becoming it looked.

It ended with a video put together by Nancy's kids of her last days, as she traveled with them in an RV from a visit to John of God in New York, on a ''road trip'' on the way back to Los Angeles.

She died in St. Louis, just one day after a videotaped visit to her old New Jersey home, where she walked around in front of the clapboard house. It's a first home that looked a lot like her last home here in L.A. She reminisced on the tape about growing up sledding on the streets and getting fired from her job at an ice cream parlor for giving away the goodies to her friends.

Onstage, below a screen with a large black-and-white photograph of Nancy, were banks of flowers and a grand piano. Its purpose became clear when Sarah McLachlan walked out and slipped onto the piano bench, where she performed the achingly poignant ``[In the Arms of an] Angel.'' By the time she was finished, some in the audience were dabbing away tears, me among them.

Tenor Placido Domingo had hoped to be there but could not get away from singing commitments, so he sent a video tribute, in song and in words, to the opera-loving Nancy.

As for who was there -- as I said, Police Chief William Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman; council members Bernard Parks, Tom LaBonge (and their wives, Bobbie and Bridget,), Bill Rosendahl and Jan Perry, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Hertzberg said he saw Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although I did not, but former Mayor Richard Riordan, Nancy's second husband, was there, and I think I did see Richard Zanuck come in.

Lyn and Norman Lear were there, and Robin Kramer, once the right-hand woman to both Villaraigosa and Riordan, and Nancy's right-hand woman, Rita Brown, who had broken her left foot a few days earlier, slipping in the rain as she worked on preparing Wednesday's tribute.

Also there were philanthropists Eli and Edye Broad and Peg Yorkin, and actor Michael York and his photographer-wife Pat, both of them members of the book group that Riordan and I began about 15 years ago. Nancy's friend Wallis Annenberg wasn't there, but her tribute to Nancy was a million-dollar donation to Nancy's children's cause.

And there was Luis. He works with chef Michelle Gan, who had dished up scores of dinners at Nancy's homes and her fund-raising events over the years. He hadn't known this was a memorial for Nancy until he showed up for work on Wednesday, he told me, and his eyes were filled with tears as he talked about her.

Cooking was one of the memories Nancy's daughter, Linda, shared with the hundreds. The Thanksgiving after cancer surgery, Nancy insisted on prepping the turkey all by herself, and stood in the kitchen making the stuffing and basting the bird -- with an IV line running in her arm.

Classic Nancy.

-- Patt Morrison

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