Politics and public policy were always important to Paul Cellucci, as one would expect of anyone with a career in public life that spanned more than three decades, and saw him rise from small-town selectman to governor of Massachusetts and ambassador to Canada. But they were never all-important.
As the Commonwealth’s 69th governor lies in honor Thursday beneath the Hall of Flags rotunda at the State House, the many political battles in which he was involved seem to pale in significance compared with the personality and character he brought to those contests. Cellucci was warm, even-tempered, and engagingly down-to-earth. “There were no airs about him,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo commented the other day. His modesty and good humor help explain his remarkable electoral winning streak: Though Cellucci was a lifelong Republican in a lopsidedly Democratic state, he never lost an election.
Cellucci died after a five-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terrible degenerative illness better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Cellucci waged that battle with characteristic dignity and public-spiritedness, launching the Champion Fund to raise money for research into ALS and other neuro-degenerative killers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. What he called his “last campaign” raised nearly $2 million, bringing closer the day when the disease that killed him will kill no more. It was one last example of leadership and decency from a son of Massachusetts whose career exemplified both.