A Beloved Grand Dame of Chicago
Born into the Social Register—in 1913, to be exact—Margaret Carr, née Wiley, better known as Peggy to a wide circle of friends in her native Chicago and beyond, graciously took time to chat with the Social Register on a brisk autumn afternoon. Witty and vivacious, with a social and volunteer schedule daunting to most thirty-year-olds, Peggy is, at 103 years old, likely the longest-lived member of the Social Register.
Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley M. Wiley, raised their family in Chicago, where Peggy attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School, before moving east to Bronxville, NY, to attend Sarah Lawrence College. Peggy ultimately returned to Chicago, where she has lived ever since. And live, she has!
As a member of the Junior League of Chicago, Peggy brought her love of theater at Sarah Lawrence back to Illinois, where the League’s public theater troupe staged plays for local students with limited or no exposure to live theater at the time. Burr Tillstrom, famed puppeteer and creator of the show Kukla, Fran and Ollie, ran their productions’ lighting board, which he transported in a steamer trunk, giving a “very professional” feel to their community productions, according to Peggy. She adored performing, even at an early age, getting her start with a starring role in a French play put on by her fourth-grade class. “I didn’t know any more French than a cat!” she says, but her determination prevailed, helped along by an innate ability to memorize seemingly everything—including the script, right down to the stage directions.
In 1939, Peggy married Robert Adams Carr, her husband of 55 years before his passing in 1994. They resided in Chicago, where they raised two sons, but had many adventures abroad, especially due to Robert’s business travel. Peggy recalled traveling to Argentina on a Pan American Airways flying boat, the preferred airliner for international air travel at that time. “It was really quite a remarkable journey,” says Peggy. The trip took much longer than anticipated, the planes only equipped to fly during the daytime, with travelers resting overnight. “We had to wait for the dawn winds to take off… it was quite an expedition!” She also recalls trips to Cuba, which “was just beautiful.” That particular branch of the Dearborn Chemical Company “needed their boss when the weather was just perfect in Cuba!” she says, laughing, as she recalls the timing of her trips there with Robert.
Her roots are in Illinois, though, and Peggy has been an active member of the Chicago community for decades, volunteering countless hours with numerous organizations, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Planned Parenthood of Chicago, the Chicago Child Care Society, and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She has served on the board of the Child Care Society for 75 years, is the longest-standing member on the board of the Children’s Hospital, and last spring was honored at Planned Parenthood’s 400-guest Generation Celebration for her nearly 80 years of service as a volunteer and board member. “I’m the oldest board member of practically everything!” she says with a laugh.
To celebrate two of her more recent years, Peggy hosted many friends and family members at a pair of soirees at the Casino Club in her honor: her 99th birthday party on November 8, 2012, and her centennial celebration on November 8, 2013, at which the Casino Club’s board of governors feted her. A “Pretty in Pink” theme ruled the night of her 100th birthday, as well as her 99th, at which the club’s pillars were tied with pink fabric, waiters donned pink neckties, and cookies in the shape of a pink bow to match her hair accessory in a childhood portrait were served. Peggy estimated at least 200 guests in attendance at the party, which she described as a cocktail reception, enabling guests to mingle and socialize with people they hadn’t seen in years, instead of “just sitting at tables,” as would have been the case had there been a formal dinner. Friends made over many years were in attendance, including the daughter of a longtime friend from Buenos Aires, who arrived from Argentina for both celebrations with her own daughter in tow. “People came from all over,” says Peggy, a fitting show of love for the grand dame of Chicago.
Sadly, Peggy passed away on November 12, 2016 — days after celebrating her 103rd birthday.
Right: Mr. and Mrs. Robert Adams Carr are married.
Above: Peggy making candy with her sons Tom and Terry.
Above: Peggy and sons at her “Around the World in 80 Years” birthday party.
Above: Peggy as a child, the photo that inspired her 99th birthday party.