Bruce C. Bolling was a gifted speaker with deep passion for his work on the Boston City Council, Mayor Thomas M. Menino recalled Wednesday.
Bolling’s enthusiasm ran so deep, however, that it almost cost him during one policy debate.
“Bruce was making an impassioned speech in support of an issue we both backed,” Menino said, speaking at a memorial service for the late council president. “And he just kept on going and going and going.”
“Finally, I slipped him a note and said, ‘Bruce, we’ve got the votes,’ ” Menino said, smiling. “ ‘But if you keep talking, we’re going to lose them. People want to get out of here.’ ”
The speech had been classic Bolling, the mayor said, showing an unrelenting commitment to public service.
The son of a state senator and brother of a state representative, Bolling served in the Boston City Council from 1981 to 1993. In 1986, the council elected him its first African-American president. He died Sept. 11 after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.
His memorial service Wednesday at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan drew hundreds of mourners, including Governor Deval Patrick, former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, and the entire City Council.
Patrick recalled Bolling as a mentor who helped a “shy amateur who had aspirations to be governor one day.”
“Bruce wasn’t satisfied being the first black president of the Boston City Council,” said Patrick, the state’s first black governor.
“He was about how to help somebody else up.”
While in office, Bolling championed the Boston Linkage Program, which requires downtown developers to help with affordable-housing projects.
He also fought successfully for policies that set aside a portion of the jobs in city-funded projects for Boston residents, for women, and for minorities.
A lifelong Roxbury resident, Bolling “never forgot where he came from,” Menino said. “He never stopped fighting for his neighborhood.”
Despite the racial tensions that continued to divide the city after the school busing crisis, Bolling brought a conciliatory style to the City Council, developing close partnerships with white politicians.
Those partnerships were on full display Wednesday. Menino recalled the shopping trips the two made to Filene’s Basement, saying that in addition to policy goals, they shared an interest in dressing well on a budget.
“Bruce was a standout city councilor, and let me tell you, he looked good doing it, too,” Menino said.
Because of the Bolling family’s political success, some have called the family the “black Kennedys,” a nickname that former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy II alluded to in his remarks.
“When I see how many Bollings are here today, I’m beginning to think the Kennedys are just the white Bollings,” he said, as the pews erupted in applause.
Kennedy said Bolling’s passion for social justice was clear from their first meeting, back when Bolling had even longer hair than Kennedy, then a junior at Milton Academy.
“Because of what he stood for, because of what he shouted and raged for, we’ve come so far in overcoming the racism that singed this city for far too long,” Kennedy said.
“Few people have had the courage and the conviction to fight the battle the way he did.”
After an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1993, Bolling left public office. He served as executive director of MassAlliance for Small Business until 2011, and stayed involved in public life, even calling council president Stephen Murphy to urge the City Council to oppose a move by Walmart to open a store in Dudley Square.
Bolling leaves his wife, Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, and three children. He was described by several speakers as a devoted father and husband.
Councilor Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color to serve on the council, urged mourners to remember Bolling not only with moments of silence but with action.
“On the day it was announced that Bruce had passed, there were many formal bodies and informal gatherings that stood in a moment of silence in deference to the life of Bruce Bolling,” Pressley said. “But I know that moving forward, the best way to honor him and to pay tribute to him is to never be silent,” she said, “to never be silent about injustice, inequities, and oppression.”