In the clerk’s office of the Massachusetts House, people still remember the day more than 20 years ago when Clerk Robert E. MacQueen was reading aloud the familiar flowery protocol for adjournment and Speaker George Keverian snatched the paper from his hand.
“George paused and said, ‘Let me see that.’ He held it up, and of course it was blank,” said current House Clerk Steven T. James, recalling how the affable Keverian’s moment of levity during the televised session made Mr. MacQueen’s face turn red.
Having worked on Beacon Hill for more than 50 years, about 15 as House clerk, Mr. MacQueen had spent so many hours in the House chamber that he knew by heart just about everything involved in the day-to-day of legislative proceedings.
Mr. MacQueen, who started at the State House as a page in 1956 and continued working a few days each week as a consultant to the clerk’s office until this spring, died of lung cancer Sunday in his Weymouth home. He was 77.
Colleagues said he had an uncanny ability to anticipate issues that would propel a legislator to exclaim, “Point of order,” and managed to dispense parliamentary wisdom with a reputation for fairness.
“He knew the job backward and forward. He knew the rules like the back of his hands,” said James, who succeeded Mr. MacQueen in 1999. “He set the example for all of us.”
Born in Lynn and raised in South Boston in a family of seven, Mr. MacQueen met his future wife, Joan Norton, when they were at Gate of Heaven High School. They were married 55 years and had five girls and two boys.
Mr. MacQueen served in the Army during the Korean War. After he returned home in 1956, his neighbor J. Joseph Moakley, a state representative who later became a longtime US representative, helped Mr. MacQueen get a job as a page earning $50 a week.
He became clerical assistant to the House clerk in 1961 and was named assistant clerk in 1969.
“He loved every minute of it,” his wife said.
Friends said Mr. MacQueen was known for his civility, his keen attention to detail, fairness, and grace under pressure.
“He was just a gentleman in every sense of the word,” said Emmet Hayes, a former state representative. “He would have been a multimillionaire if we paid him by the hour. He always stayed until the work was completed. He was the consummate public servant.”
Mr. MacQueen had a playful sense of humor.
When Hayes was on the Transportation Committee, Mr. MacQueen would remind him each time a new pothole opened up on the Southeast Expressway “as if I could get a crew out there that day and get it fixed,” Hayes said. “He was a fun man.”
During grueling budget debates, Mr. MacQueen was a steady presence through endless roll call votes running late into the night. He often missed dinners with his family and sometimes would not close shop at the House until after 2 a.m.
“Bob never lost his composure, no matter how heated the debate, no matter how many amendments to the amendment,” Hayes said. “He never got tired. He was so knowledgeable, and he made it clear to young legislators they should pay attention to the rules, learn them, and it would empower them for their districts.”
Mr. MacQueen worked with a parade of House speakers during his career. If he liked one better than another, he never said. He rarely talked about his job at home, according to his wife.
When he retired in 1999, the Globe reported that Mr. MacQueen “knows the dirt, but he’s too discreet to dish it. There’s no juicy memoir in his future.”
“You hear a lot, but you don’t say anything,” Mr. MacQueen told the Globe then.
In addition to his wife, Mr. MacQueen leaves two sons, Robert Jr. of Scituate and Michael of Abington; four daughters, Joan Marie MacDonald of South Weymouth, Joyce of Abington, Michelle Fitzgerald of Mendon, Suzanne Soucie of Kingston; four brothers, David of Needham, John of Windsor, Colo., Frederick of Inverness, Fla., and James of Raynham; a sister, Gladys Welch Keenan of Milton; and 17 grandchildren.
A funeral Mass was said Friday in St. Francis Xavier Church in Weymouth. Burial was in Blue Hill Cemetery in Braintree.
His daughter Maureen MacQueen Savoy, who had worked as a legislative aide, was 23 when she died in a car crash in 1985.
Following her death, Mr. MacQueen sought solace in running. He started training and ran eight Boston Marathons, his family said.
“He was so kind,” said his daughter Suzanne. “He was by far the best dad anyone could ever have.”
Mr. MacQueen’s lung cancer was already stage IV when he was diagnosed in February.
On a Friday in March at the end of the day, he revealed the diagnosis to James, the House clerk, and to Scott Mitchell, the assistant clerk. Then he quickly slipped out the door to catch the commuter rail.
“He said he was optimistic,” James recalled. “He never was the type of person who would want to worry any of his friends. He was always thinking about others.”