Desperately Seeking Deval

“You could say I’ve been thinking about this house for 50 years,” Deval Patrick said one day this summer. He was standing in the airy kitchen of his home in the Berkshires, barefoot, wearing faded jeans and a soft green short-sleeved button-down shirt, preparing a lunch of homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Patrick and his wife, Diane, bought the land, which they christened Sweet P Farm, long before he became governor, but the house wasn’t completed until 2006, the year he took office. Located in Richmond, at the far western edge of the state and set on 77 rolling green acres, the house is low, rambling, and roomy—open to the landscape. It’s as if Patrick had set out to create a place that was the exact opposite of the State House, the insular bastion of old-school politics that he was elected to transform.

When he was a boy growing up in a cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, Patrick was fascinated by the floor plans of suburban tract houses published in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. He used a triangular ruler to explore the plans in three dimensions, and he cut schematic furniture out of paper, shifting the pieces around as he tried to imagine what it would feel like to live in such places.

Patrick left Chicago a long time ago: A Better Chance brought him to Milton Academy at the age of 14, and from there he went on to Harvard, Harvard Law, Hill & Barlow, the Justice Department, Texaco, Coca-Cola, and, finally, the governorship. But he has sustained a lifelong interest in the emotional and psychological effect of physical spaces. He comes to Sweet P Farm not only for a respite from his wrestling matches with the legislature and the attention of the press, but also to get away from the State House itself.

It was a beautiful July afternoon after a month of rain. Sitting at a table on the back patio and dipping his sandwich in his soup, the governor talked about the state’s split personality. “Massachusetts has a long history of innovation,” he said. “The U.S. Constitution is based on our constitution, and look at abolition and all the social entrepreneurs who took their dot-com money and tried to make the world better. But sometimes you see flashes of the other side of Massachusetts, the capital of the status quo.” Local business history is littered with the names of companies—Wang, DEC, Polaroid—that failed because they stood pat and “broke faith with the risk-taking that made their greatness.” On Beacon Hill, capital of the capital of the status quo, “you get more credit for stopping something from happening than for making something happen.” The observation echoed what Patrick had told reporters from the Boston Globe a few weeks earlier, that he would not turn into “the classic overcautious Massachusetts politician.” He added, “We have a very ambitious agenda. We’re going to keep driving that agenda.”

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  • Anonymous

    I had no perspective of Gov. Deval before my 2008 return to Boston. Early, petty snafus damaged his, public persona, but I welcomed this article to provide a bit more insight into him and his mission to battle old-guard-bureaucrats. I continually remind myself that journalists are in the business of creating interest, sometimes with little merit – creating news is their job.

    This state achieves private-sector success despite Beacon Hill. With a rare competitive advantage by an annual influx of new talent and an education workforce, this state’s business policies and infrastructure drive away more business than cultivates. This state, my native state, needs more long-term thinking, however at odds it is with short-term political cycles of voter appeasement.

    Having lived around the world and developed economic assessments across Asia and Europe my return to Massachusetts shocked me. Many of the business attitudes I expected in Asia and Eastern Europe, but here it is shockingly an