Thomas M. Menino, the former Boston mayor whose hectic schedule made it seem like he was absolutely everywhere, lost his battle on Thursday morning to the advanced cancer that plagued him since shortly after he left office earlier this year. He was 71, and died just one week after announcing that he would cease cancer treatments and seek palliative care.
During his 20 years as mayor—the longest mayoral tenure in Boston’s history—Menino allegedly met about half of Boston’s residents, according to a 2013 Boston Globe poll. There was no new building added to the city’s skyline, no pothole in one of Boston’s streets, and no local citizens that were not in some way or another touched by Menino’s influence.
While his omnipresence may have led some critics to question his personal stake in certain matters, such as his determination to place a crown-like structure on the head of 111 Huntington Ave. because of a personal distaste for flat rooftops, it was this intense level of management that made Menino a firm and supportive presence in Boston’s neighborhoods, earning him a reputation as an “urban mechanic.”
This was no less true at Boston College.
“When he said he worked an 18-hour day, it was true,” University Spokesman Jack Dunn said.
Menino was always there when BC officials gathered to award grants from the Allston/Brighton Boston College Community Fund, which had been founded by Menino and former University President Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., BC’s current chancellor, in an effort to supplement the existing budgets of organizations that provide valuable services to the community.
One December, Dunn recalled, when the grants were awarded at the now-closed Minihane’s Flower and Garden Shop in Brighton, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. and Menino joined a choir, present as entertainment for the event, in singing Christmas carols. According to Dunn, most of those present soon followed along.
“That will always be a memory that I will cherish,” Dunn said.
Known as a champion of higher education, Menino taught the practice of political science at Boston University and worked closely with universities trying to achieve their goals, including BC’s effort to gain approval of its Institutional Master Plan.
“There was one element—housing on the Brighton campus—that he set aside for further study, but the other elements of our Institutional Master Plan he approved,” Dunn said. “We’re in the process of fulfilling that Master Plan right now with the construction of the new dormitory at 2150 Commonwealth Ave., along with the other projects that we have completed over the past few years.”
In a press release, Leahy recalled Menino’s dedicated involvement with BC.
“I always found him to be gracious and engaged in the meetings I had with him,” Leahy said. “I will remember the Mayor, his wife Angela, and his extended family in my prayers.”
Before Menino became Boston’s beloved “urban mechanic,” he was dismissed as a man without vision in 1993, when he was president of the City Council and became acting mayor after Raymond Flynn left office to fill an ambassadorship.
“I want to help people, help one individual a day,” he said at the time. “Just to make their life a little better.”
These words were an early sign that Menino was no great orator—he was both lovingly teased and unkindly mocked for his frequent malapropisms and substitution errors—but they also speak to the grounded sensibilities that would turn him into the city’s massively popular mayor. In 2013, he had an astoundingly high approval rating of 82 percent.
Surely, his ability to bring individuals from various communities into his fold contributed greatly to this approval rating. Menino, Boston’s first Italian-American mayor and a liberal Democrat, was a stalwart supporter of Boston’s immigrants and the GLBTQ community. In 1998, he established the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, seeking to provide resources for immigrants to learn English, gain an education, and become citizens. In support of the GLBTQ community, he famously refused to march in the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parades, as organizers did not permit GLBTQ activists to participate.
“Because of his leadership, Boston is a better place today,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, said in a public statement released by the mayor’s office.
BC students may be most familiar with Menino through his response to the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon, which left three people dead and 260 severely wounded. The events of that day diverted many Marathon runners into St. Ignatius Church at BC, where they tried to reconnect with loved ones fearing for their safety.
Although his doctors advised him that he needed rest in order to recover from ankle surgery, Menino checked himself out of the hospital to become a part of the response. During an interfaith prayer service following the tragedy, he rose from a wheelchair to address those in attendance.
“We are one Boston,” he said. “No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”
Menino’s funeral is today at Most Precious Blood Church in Hyde Park, the neighborhood in which he was a lifelong resident.
True to form, the man who managed everything did not wait for others to arrange his funeral—he planned it for himself.
Image Courtesy of Charles Krupa / AP Photo