They have been with him longer than anyone else in the building.
When Mayor Tom Menino’s remarkable star turn ends in a few days, Peggie Gannon and Martha Pierce will be drawing the curtain on their own long runs. They have been by his side every day of his 20 years as mayor, and long before that. They know a Menino who would surprise a lot of people, even after all these years.
Pierce is the mayor’s tireless education adviser, the liaison to the school department and School Committee, the person parents call when their kids miss the bus, or they need help applying to a school.
Gannon is a less well-known figure, and that’s how she likes it, thank you very much. “Forty years I haven’t had my name anywhere,” she huffed, after Pierce persuaded her to sit for a joint interview in her fifth-floor office last week. “Forty years, nobody knows I exist. God!”
Gannon is Menino’s special assistant, though she doesn’t care for the “special” part. “I’m no more special than anybody else,” she said. “I’m like his old shoes.” She does whatever it takes to get the mayor through his long days. She’ll get him a new shirt if he spills something at lunch. She’s in charge of his 3 p.m. snack — Ritz crackers, top and bottom, with sugar-free Jif. She helps run the turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving and Toys for Tots at Christmas. She makes the delicate calls to constituents who ask the mayor for help he cannot provide without risking jail time.
They have known Menino since they were all starting out, working for Menino’s mentor, Joe Timilty, then a state senator. Gannon began in Timilty’s drafty State House office in 1973, Pierce in 1978. People say Menino was Timilty’s driver, but Gannon and Pierce say the future mayor was no great shakes behind the wheel. For one thing, he started his own car with a screwdriver.
It’s hard to imagine now, but both women remember Menino being shy about campaigning back then. Gannon says he sat in the car outside a Hyde Park bowling alley, resisting entreaties that he go in and ask for votes. He said he couldn’t, she recalled: He knew everybody in there.
Pierce and Gannon joined Menino when he went to the City Council in 1983, though at the time Gannon worried that having Menino as a boss was a stupid idea: “Talk about ruining a perfect friendship.” On the afternoon Menino, then City Council president, ascended to the mayor’s office after Ray Flynn flew the coop for the Vatican in 1993, he found himself sitting alone in the big office. He called Pierce and Gannon and asked them to come over right away. They have been within a few steps of his door ever since.
Like Menino, Gannon and Pierce have given up a lot for the city, working all hours, every day. They have missed weddings and school plays and holidays with their families. Neither ever had a moment’s doubt it was worth it, even though some days the boss drove them batty.
“What could drive these two idiots to be with the same colleague and boss for all these years?” Pierce asked. “It’s not inertia. It’s sheer love, for the job, for the mayor.” He paid their dedication back, the women say. Each of them lost parents over the years, each of them was buffeted by life’s challenges. Menino always said, “Do whatever you need to do,” and “How can I help?” It was easy to stay committed, because he was more dedicated to his job than anybody could imagine.
The Menino they know is incredibly kind, and has a self-amused awareness of his own combustible reputation. “People say how thin-skinned he is,” Gannon said. “He will be on the phone and be yelling at somebody. He wants you to think he’s steaming, but he’s not. I’ll say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ and he’ll do that silly little giggle thing he does, and he’ll say, ‘Because it’s fun!’ ”
It’s all winding down now. Pierce is busy wrapping up some policy issues and clearing out decades’ worth of records. Gannon is packing up Menino’s office, but only when he’s not around to see it. She makes sure to fill empty shelves with family pictures and Christmas decorations, spreading out what’s left so that the mayor doesn’t “feel like we’re packing up around him.”
Gannon will retire, though she figures Menino will call on her from time to time from his new perch at Boston University. She’s looking forward to watching the 11 o’clock news and knowing that it won’t affect her tomorrow. Pierce is moving onto another position, though she wouldn’t say where.
Menino will clearly miss both of them. “These two women are the hidden heroes of my administration,” he said, dropping into Pierce’s office. “These are the people who make government work.’’
Pierce was moved by those words. Gannon didn’t hear them. She fled the room in disgust the second the mayor began praising her.