by David S. Bernstein and Steve Annear
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Menino. Bold, big-hearted, and Boston strong, Tom was the embodiment of the city he loved and led for more than two decades. As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Tom helped make his hometown the vibrant, welcoming, world-class place it is today.
His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live. I had a chance to speak with Tom’s wife, Angela, yesterday, and today our thoughts and prayers are with her, with the entire Menino family, and with the people of Boston who Tom loved so much, and who loved him in return.
To any who had come to know him, it is no surprise that more than half of Boston had a direct interaction with Tom Menino. No man possessed a greater love for our city, and his dedicated life in service to Boston and her people and changed the face of the city.
With sheer determination and unmatched work ethic, he took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in healthcare, education, innovation and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services.
He was a leader on policy issues that shaped the Boston we know today: from the environment, to youth engagement, to innovation, to crime prevention. But more than anything, he was a man of the neighborhoods. He held a profound understanding of the direct and immediate impact that municipal government can have on people, and made it a great priority to ensure that government served people, and not the other way around.
Even in the latest stages of his illness, his concern—first and foremost—was always for Boston. We are forever grateful for Mayor Menino’s guidance, advice, and continued dedication to Boston. And though he has passed, his legacy and spirit will be felt across the city for generations to come. Because of his leadership, Boston is a better place today. From a grateful city: Our prayers are with Angela, Susan and Tommy, their families and friends, and all who loved Tom Menino.
Boston has lost a political giant, and Diane and I have lost a friend. Our hearts and prayers go out to Angela and the whole Menino family. And we thank God for the service and the life of Tom Menino.
Today, Boston has lost the greatest mayor in its history. He was a friend and mentor, and a shining example to me and countless others of what it means to love and serve your community.
What made Tom Menino so remarkable was his connection to the people he represented—he understood their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. And he fought for them every day. He never forgot where he came from and stayed true to who he was to the very end.
We will miss him dearly, and we are all better for having known him and Boston is better for his leadership. My prayers go to his family—including his loving children Tom and Susan, his wonderful grandchildren, and to the love of his life, Angela. My condolences also go to his large extended family, his many friends, and his former staff.
The city of Boston lost a great fighter today. Mayor Tom Menino used his big heart, his strong voice, and his fierce determination to shape every corner of the city. Bruce and I send our prayers to Mayor Menino’s wife Angela, to his family, and to all Bostonians. Our mayor is gone, but he lives on in every neighborhood in Boston.
Words cannot express the sadness felt throughout the Commonwealth today. Tom Menino was truly one of the nation’s greatest mayors. He cared not just about Boston, but about everybody.
Even while he was very sick, his thoughts and concerns were always with the people of this city and their well-being. It’s because of his fierce guidance and innovative vision that Boston has emerged as a vibrant urban landscape worthy of the title world-class city. His efforts in each neighborhood transformed the face of Boston. Life is too short, but he led a remarkable one. No one will ever love Boston as much as Tom Menino did. I will dearly miss his friendship and, while we will always mourn his loss, Mayor Menino will live through Boston forever. My thoughts and prayers are with Angela and the entire Menino family.
Tom Menino will be remembered as one of America’s greatest mayors. He was also a thoroughly good and decent man—a loving and beloved husband, father, grandfather, and brother. He dedicated his life and career to the people of Boston.
He knew every block of every neighborhood as well as he knew his own back yard and he treated them with the same love and care. He valued every resident as if they were his neighbors and cared for every child as if their futures were his own. He was a mentor and a father figure to many of us who entered public service, myself included. For the city he loved so much, this is a death in the family.
Tom Menino’s passing leaves a gigantic hole in the heart of the city he loved. His life and courage epitomized ‘Boston Strong’ and will inspire our community for generations to come. Barbara and I extend our condolences to Angela, the entire Menino family, and the people of Boston.
Mayor Menino had the courage to do whatever it took to fight for the people of Boston. We are all beneficiaries of his generous spirit, particularly the children of Boston, for whom he advocated tirelessly so they would have bright futures. My deepest prayers are with Angela and the Menino family. We are grateful for the decades that you and Mayor Menino shared with the citizens of Massachusetts.
My first memories are Tom Menino the City Councilor, the first elected official to really understand Roslindale as its own neighborhood, not an appendage of West Roxbury or Hyde Park. He played the crucial role in revitalizing Roslindale.
When I was running for city council in 2007, I used to find out where he would be in the morning on weekends, and then follow his SUV the rest of the day because I knew he’d spend all day at events with voters. I thought I was sly, but I’ll always remember he pulled me aside at a block party in Hyde park and he said “keep working and you’ll win, and keep following me, that’s the smartest thing you can do.” He said it with a smile and humility, but we both knew it was true.
In remembering Mayor Tom Menino, two conversations that we had together come to mind which I think really capture who he was and what was important to him. The first was when as Mayor of Worcester I lead a delegation of Worcester residents and business owners to Boston to learn about Mayor Menino’s Main Streets Program. During that visit I rode with the Mayor in his SUV down Harry Truman Parkway in Boston in the Mayor’s neighborhood.
He gleefully shared with me how in the closing months of the Clinton Administration he had secured a few million dollars to resurface Truman Parkway and add brick treatments and decorative lamps. He went on to say that Harry Truman was his political hero because “Harry Truman was all about hard work and didn’t worry about who got the credit.” Certainly the same will be said about Mayor Menino.
The second conversation with Mayor Menino was years later as Lt. Governor when I visited him at the Parkman House. I was exploring the pros and cons of running for Governor and I went to visit the Mayor to seek his advice.
We had a great conversation and he shared with me his experiences as acting Mayor and stories from his first campaign for Mayor. However, the most impactful thing he said was that no matter what my decision was that I needed to take care of my family because “family is what is most important.” Tom Menino always had his priorities right. He and the entire Menino family are in my thoughts and prayers and I will miss “America’s Mayor.”
When I was about four years old at the Columbus Day Parade in the North End, I ran over to Mayor Menino and literally poked him at the back. The Mayor turned to me and I told him that the slide at the city yards in East Boston is broke and that I cannot play there with my “Noni” anymore. All of the older Italian Women started laughing saying we have a community activist.
According to my Dad, the Mayor turned to one of his aides and the aide took all of the information from my Dad. Within the next six months the City Yards in East Boston had a major facelift. I not only had a new slide but had a whole new playground that my Noni could take me to every day.
I am not taking any credit at all for the new playground. The moral of the story is that the Mayor talked to me at a young age and took all of the information about the playground from my Dad. Mayor Menino loved kids in the City of Boston. He never missed a Little League Parade.
Whenever I would see him anywhere in the city, I would say, “How are you doing?” And he would always say, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because of the job I have.” Before his last election campaign, against Michael Flaherty, I had a lunch with him at Parkman House, just me and him, to discuss some things. I said, “What are you doing? Are you going to run for another term?”
He said, “What do you think I should do?” I said, “Go around the city, take credit for all the things you’ve done, and enjoy retirement with Angela.” He said “Part of me thinks about doing that. But on the other hand, I love my job more than anyone could ever know. And that part of me is why I might run again.” And of course he did.
I was new and determined to get to know our powerful Mayor. So I shadowed him at every public event for weeks. It was in the middle of the Red Sox sale and stadium story, which the Globe and Herald were battling over every day. As usual, the Mayor was in the know and, if you could grab him, would almost always make news. But he’d always make me work for it.
On this story, his quote was “stay tuned.” And, as I showed up at more and more events, he started calling me “the stalker.” A few months later, he came in to an editorial board meeting and I went to interview him for the story.
The mayor brought me in a T-shirt and presented it to me in front of my editors and publisher. The front said, “The Stalker.” The back said, “Stay Tuned….” He hadn’t bought my loyalty or better coverage but I’d earned his respect by my hard work and he earned mine for being smart and press-savvy. We had some battles after that and he got mad at me all the time. But he respected me and I him. That’s old school and doesn’t happen often enough anymore. It’s just a small anecdote about why he was the most press-savvy pol I ever covered and a genuine good guy.
For me the embodiment of Tom Menino came in the form of a poll that was done one year he was running for re-election (his last). The poll came back with usual tallies of favorables and name recognition that were all respective of his stature and time in office but there was another question added to the poll.
It asked how many people feel they had met the mayor. The answer back was 58% of the respondents!!!! Now that would have meant that he had met over 350,000 people personally—a task that was even tough to imagine for him.
But what it meant was that people felt they really knew him. they saw him out and about in the neighborhoods and at their events. He was everywhere and that was how he liked it. Always moving. Always in the mix. It was this ability to read and understand the neighborhoods of the city that made him so great and never, ever out of touch. The number of people he actually met no one will ever know or even be able to grasp, but Boston knew its mayor. They knew Tom Menino and they adored him.
I kind of grew up in City Hall—in fact, I now work on the same floor that my mom worked on for 17 years. Mayor Menino was one of my constants—you know, a figure that’s there, a part of your life you don’t really question—we did charity walks as a City of Boston team, he was at the employee holiday celebrations. It’s funny when someone you know in a certain context becomes something different for you as you grow older.
When I stumbled into the political world, Mayor Menino was again a constant—but a different kind of constant. After he announced his retirement, Mayor Menino always joked that every event thereafter became like a eulogy, people just saying nice things about him because he was leaving. It’s hard not to do that, no matter how hard you try, it’s hard to remain critical of someone who is leaving behind a legacy built over 20 years. I kind of get the feeling that Mayor Menino wouldn’t mind the good things being said about him now that he is gone, but I also think he’d want to hear the other stuff.
So here goes—Mayor Menino—you were really stubborn and sometimes you yelled and it was very hard to go against you in this city. I fought you on some things, but others I let go (like you never, ever getting my name right).
One of my favorite interactions was the time I sat across from you in your office and told you I would sue you if you signed a certain piece of legislation that was being proposed by the council. I don’t know where I got the “cojones” that day, but awaiting your response may have been the longest five seconds of my life. You laughed out loud. Not in a mean or condescending way, but a “you go girl!” kind of way. I kind of feel like I earned my stripes on that day. For that, I can only say, “Gracias, Alcalde Menino, gracias.”
Tom Menino was at his best caring for others when they were ailing. I remember us being in Philly for a national service summit, with four former Presidents and scores of other dignitaries. We ran into Lenny Zakim, who really wanted to be at the summit, but was declining in health and the rainy weather that day didn’t help.
Menino got Lenny back to his room and stayed with him all afternoon to make sure he was okay, despite Lenny’s protests. This was classic Menino, when anyone he knew was ailing, he was the first to offer help, to call the hospital CEO, or to check in with the person’s spouse. Under “Meninocare,” you knew you were in good hands.
I used to run the Roslindale Trick or Treat Trot (a Halloween 5k) every year, and I remember the ’08 race had pouring rain and freezing temperatures. Because of the weather, there were only two dozen or so runners—and obviously no media to speak of. But Menino was there as the official starter, shaking every hand, thanking people for coming out in such awful weather. And he stayed through the awards ceremony 40 or so minutes later. To me that epitomizes the mayor—a constant presence in the neighborhoods, no matter how small the event.
Mayor Menino changed the way that Bostonians think about their mayor—and, by extension, I would say, about government. He was incredibly present and accessible. Over 50% of Bostonians had personally met him! Do you know how impressive that is? Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, people felt they could touch and talk to their mayor when they wanted to. That raises people’s expectations for their relationship with government, which is a lasting legacy.
He also proved that genuineness and comfort in your own skin trump polish and oratory in politics. We all joked about it: Tom Menino was unintelligible. And yet, whenever he was making a speech you knew where his heart was. And he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. That’s why he was beloved.
On the night of the 2004 New Hampshire Primary, I was on the ballroom stage along with several dozen other John Kerry supporters. The guy next to me bumped into—literally—Mayor Menino. As soon as he realized who it was, the man apologized and moved away so that the Mayor would have a spot up front. Instead, not only did Mayor Menino decline the offer, he went all the way to the back of the stage, out of sight.
I couldn’t help but think how extraordinary it was for a well-known politician to not only refuse to “hog the spotlight,” but to downright shun it. I was, and am, incredibly impressed by that small act and it told me an awful lot about the man. Rest in peace, Mister Mayor.
A number of years ago, I was at a breakfast event for Project Bread—The Walk for Hunger promoting school breakfast programs. When it was his turn to speak, the Mayor got up and said the following:
“I don’t know if you all know this but my pet peeve is driving around the City in the morning and seeing school kids eating potato chips for breakfast as they are standing and waiting for their school buses. When I see this, I have my driver pull alongside them. I roll down the window and tell the kid, “I am the mayor of Boston and if I ever see you eating potato chips for breakfast ever again, I will have you arrested.”
Vintage Menino—someone who cared deeply about all the residents of the City, especially its children, and had his own unique way of demonstrating that.
Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2014/10/30/mayor-tom-menino-passes-away-age-71/
Copyright ©2020 Boston Magazine unless otherwise noted.