Angie Lahey - a passion for life, romance

Posted on Sat, 05/01/2021 - 12:30pm

By Tracy Poyser

The trouble with trying to condense our neighbor Angeline (Angie) Lahey’s life story – intertwined with that of her beloved late husband, Jack Lahey – in one Dialogue profile is deciding what to leave out. The anecdotes and stories she told me in our delightful two-hour interview are the stuff of an adventure and romance movie, with glamorous locales from Chicago’s Gold Coast to Acapulco’s luxury retreats, and loss tempered by lasting love and an indomitable zest for life.

Angie took romance to another level. Under the pen name Angeline Duran, she authored “Heaven’s Gift” (“Regalo del Cielo”), a novel that – quoting from its back cover – is “a passionate and moving love story set in the seductive and dazzling fashion world, as a tantalizing Latin American mystique weaves its way throughout its pages.”

First, some biographical info.

Angie Villafuerte Lahey was born in the late 1930s and lived in Chicago all her life except for a six-month interlude in New York in 1963. She went to Bowen High School in far southeast Chicago and directly to Moser Secretarial School from there.

Her talent and ambition took her far. An unfailing sense for style, high fashion and design guided her rapid rise in local and international public relations, merchandising, related trade associations and support of the performing and visual arts. She served as president of the Chicago Fashion Exchange (one year), was director of meetings and conventions for the National Home Furnishings Association (10 years), director of admissions and director of public relations at the International Academy of Merchandising and Design (seven years), and associate producer of “Gauguin: The Musical” in Chicago. She received many honors and rewards while in the public eye, including the Key to the City of New Orleans in 2006 for judging and helping present the New Orleans Fashion Group’s first annual Alpha Awards for excellence in the fashion industry.

Angie was a free spirit early on as a young professional woman in her 20s, sharing an apartment in Lincoln Park with friends she calls the “Armitage Avenue Gang.” She was chosen “Beauty of the Day” by the Chicago Tribune in the late ’50s, became first runner-up in the Miss Pan American Games contest in 1958 and helped welcome the Pan American Games to Chicago in 1959, where she presented the medals to the winners of the weightlifting division, an event she will never forget.

Her business associations took her to many exotic locations, but none compared to Acapulco, Mexico, the setting for “Heaven’s Gift,” where she met the love of her life, Jack Lahey, in 1981. Angie’s mother had rented a villa with a private pool from Jack and invited Angie to join her for a much-needed vacation. Angie had just gotten divorced; her only daughter, Michelle, was in her late teens. Like Angie, her mom was an unconventional woman with a fiercely independent streak. But, the best thing she did for her daughter was to take her to “the hottest bar in Acapulco.” It was very crowded that night, and Angie remembers being asked to dance by a crazy guy who picked her up and swung her petite frame around the dance floor until she got dizzy. Jack rescued her by asking to buy her a drink, and she reciprocated a couple of evenings later by inviting him to dinner at her mom’s villa. The rest is history.

When I asked Angie for this Dialogue interview, she insisted that this be Jack’s story as well as hers, and gave me a copy of his moving 2014 obituary. The two moved into Malibu East in 1986. They had been living on Berwyn Avenue when our building was under construction and had seen a model unit in the sales office, but waited until Michelle was grown before opting for condo living. Because they spent six months each year in Acapulco, they chose a one-bedroom unit in our L tier where Angie still lives.

Jack Lahey had been born in 1929 and raised in Chicago’s Wrigleyville. He became a star basketball player at DePaul University with famed coach Rey Meyer, where his skinny 6-foot-3 frame earned him the nickname “Spider.” After being drafted into the Army in the early 1950s and sent to Japan, he played alongside the Harlem Globetrotters for four years, touring as a member of the Boston Whirlwinds, one of their traveling teams of in-house rivals. Among many noteworthy memories, he never forgot having his picture taken with Marilyn Monroe in Japan. She was then married to Joe DiMaggio and staying at their hotel. Monroe was dressed in fatigues because she was on her way to Korea to entertain the U.S. troops. Jack told Angie, “I was shaking, and Marilyn tells me, ‘I hope I don’t ruin your picture.’ ”

After a few years with the Globetrotters, Jack returned to Chicago where he started out as a physical education instructor, and promoted dances at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel. He became a vending machine distributor and real estate investor who “sailed through life with a big smile, a strong handshake and the firm belief that it was 5 o’clock somewhere,” says Angie. He liked a good meal, a glass of Cutty Sark and the view from his Acapulco condo – but most of all he loved his Angie.

Angie remembers getting invited to his bachelor pad in Chicago for the first time for a drink, and discovering that his drinking glasses weren’t frosted, they just hadn’t been washed. “He never washed anything and had never used the stove,” she recalls. On one of their first dates, he arrived to find her waiting with a bucket and a mop. “I said, ‘We’re not going anywhere until this place is clean.’ And when he asked, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I told him it was like ‘Animal House’!” She hired a weekly maid service, and a grateful Jack said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I think he had probably dated half the world, and when he met me, he saw something stable,” Angie wrote in the obituary. Jack died in 2014, just shy of their silver anniversary.

Angie credits her romance with Jack, the glamour of Acapulco, and the Chicago fashion and high-society scene as the inspirations for her novel, “Heaven’s Gift.” But, I asked, how did she get the notion to write it in the first place? Was it something she had always wanted to do? “Absolutely not,” she tells me. “I was just trying to help a friend.”

The husband of one of Angie’s close friends, Jim, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer sometime in 2011. So, to help distract him, she committed to writing a novel as long as he wrote one too, so they could see who would finish first, without giving each other progress reports. She had no clue about how to start, but settled on romance, since it mirrored her own romantic life, and the lure of Acapulco as something exotic for readers. She even joined the Romance Writers of America, whose members often authored somewhat risqué paperbacks. She secured the help of one of her friends from the Chicago Press Club, a journalist/author and former speechwriter for President Nixon, to review her chapter-by-chapter outline and critique each chapter as she progressed – all this while her husband Jack was fighting his own battle with multiple myeloma, diagnosed in 2007.

Heaven’s Gift” was published in 2013, a year before Angie’s soulmate died. Sadly, her friend Jim had passed away not long before that. When Angie asked how far he had progressed in writing his novel, his widow confessed that he had never started one, and Angie realized Jim had truly given her his own heaven’s gift by accepting her dare. She began a sequel but gave up after three chapters because her heart just wasn’t in it.

Reading the book, I enjoyed several familiar Chicago locales coming back to life – Marshall Field’s and its Walnut Room, the Gold Coast Room in the Drake Hotel, the Rush Street scene and other nostalgia-invoking places. Angie tells me that her Acapulco locations are real ones, too.

Are the novel’s protagonists patterned after real people? “Of course,” she says with a big smile. “I wouldn’t have had fun with it otherwise.”

So, if you want to figure out who Angie and Jack are in this intriguing – and, at times, quite steamy – roman à clef, just go to Amazon and you’ll be able to get the Kindle edition of Angeline Duran’s “Heaven’s Gift” for only $3.99, or as a paperback for $15.99.