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Thomas W. McGee, ex-speaker of Mass. House, dies at 88

Thomas W. McGee served as speaker from 1975 to 1984.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/file

Thomas W. McGee served as speaker from 1975 to 1984.

Thomas W. McGee, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House and longtime legislator from Lynn, died Friday morning, a funeral director said. He was 88.

Mr. McGee served as speaker from 1975 until 1984, when he was ousted in a bitter battle with George Keverian, who had served as majority leader under Mr. McGee.

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His son, Thomas M. McGee, has been a state senator from Lynn since 2002. He could not be reached for comment Friday night.

David M. Bartley, Mr. ­McGee’s predecessor as speaker, remembered the legislator Friday night as someone who led the House at a time fraught with disorder.

“I remember at that time the House had 240 members,” Bartley said. “God could not control 240 members, so it was difficult for a speaker.”

But Mr. McGee, a former Marine with a good sense of ­humor, managed, Bartley said.

“Tommy was fair, he was ­decent, and he had the best interests of the Commonwealth,” he said.

Other legislators who worked with Mr. McGee could not be reached.

The Lynn Democrat served nearly a decade as speaker, and Bartley said he used to tell Mr. McGee that he stayed too long. Though Bartley said the average term for a speaker at the time was about five years, he said Mr. McGee stayed longer because he loved the job and Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts was home; Massachusetts is where he wanted to stay,” Bartley said. “He was pretty friendly with Jimmy Carter, and I think ­Jimmy Carter offered a couple of jobs [to Mr. McGee], and I just don’t think he wanted to leave Massachusetts.”

Mr. McGee had a passion for several issues, including mental health, according to Bartley.

“He was dramatically interested in mental health and helping regarding alcoholism,” Bartley said.

Robert A. DeLeo. the current House speaker, remembered Mr. McGee as a devoted politician.

“Speaker McGee served the City of Lynn and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with distinction for many years,” ­DeLeo said. “I extend my condolences to Senator McGee and his entire family.”

Mr. McGee was a representative in the Massachusetts House from 1963 until the early 1990s. His term as speaker came to a tumultuous end in the mid-’80s during a feud that still is a marker of his career.

A Globe account from 1985 describes how Mr. McGee lost a reelection bid for speaker to Keverian, whom Mr. McGee had fired as majority leader just a year before. It was the first time in more than 300 years that an incumbent speaker lost a bid for the position.

Brian Field of Solimine, Landergan, and Richardson funeral home, said the Mr. McGee family has requested a private service. They will announce a public memorial in early January, Field said.

Globe correspondents Melanie Dostis and Jeffrey Fish contributed to this report. Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson@globe.com.

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