At noontime, he smiled broadly, again and again, as a throng of senior citizens pressed forward, angling to pose for a photo with him.
In the afternoon, he clapped his hands, keeping time with a rousing church choir. He bowed his head as dozens of local clergy members — Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh — placed their hands on him and prayed for Martin J. Walsh and the city he is set to lead.
The day before his mayoral inauguration, Walsh attended a brunch for hundreds of Boston seniors in a cavernous room at a Northeastern University athletic center before heading to an afternoon interfaith prayer service in the historic Old South Church.
At times joyful and joking, other times, reverent and reflective, Walsh spent his last day as mayor-elect expressing appreciation in many ways.
At the brunch for seniors, set up and paid for by his inaugural committee, Walsh was mobbed from the moment he entered. As his mother, Mary, and his longtime girlfriend, Lorrie Higgins, watched from a safe distance, Walsh smiled gamely through a multitude of iPhone snaps, handshakes, and small talk. Big-band jazz played as Walsh slowly made his way to the front of the room and thanked the crowd — about 900 people, according to a Walsh aide — for coming to the brunch.
As he spoke to seniors on the campaign trail in recent months, Walsh said, he heard a constant refrain: Continue what Mayor Thomas M. Menino has done with regard to the Commission on Affairs of the Elderly.
“I just want to let you know that we’re going to keep that same commitment to the seniors of our city of Boston,” he said. “We’re going to work extremely hard in my administration to make sure that you have a place that you live in that’s safe, a place that you live in that’s your home.”
As the seniors continued to enjoy their brunches, which included Grand Marnier french toast, sausage links, and broccoli, tomato, and cheddar frittatas Walsh spoke briefly to the press. Asked by a reporter how it felt to be treated like a celebrity, Walsh broke into a laugh and cracked: “I don’t know, I saw you trying to take a picture too!”
Before the mayor-elect arrived, seniors from many parts of the city — who received tote bags filled with candy, a pen, a small notepad, and a bottle of hand sanitizer — expressed support for the Dorchester Democrat, excitement to meet him, and fondness for Menino.
Sonia Booker, an 80-year-old who said she had come from the GrandFamilies House in Dorchester, expressed excitement about seeing the soon-to-be-mayor, for whom she had voted.
“I read up a lot on him and liked what I read,” she said.
Booker paused for a moment and then added: “But I sure am going to miss Mayor Menino though.”
East Boston resident Marjorie Colwell, 75, who was sitting at a table with her husband, Peter, 72, said they had loved Menino for the 20 years he had been mayor. “We wish the new mayor a lot of luck,” she said.
Irene McCall, 88 and of Allston, said she voted for Walsh, “thought he was a great guy,” and hoped to get a chance to talk to him, because she had never met him.
After Walsh spoke, he swung by her table and, beaming, she snapped a photo of him with her flip phone.
Then Walsh walked over to McCall, shook her hand, and spoke with her for a moment.
“I think he’s great. I think he’s great,” McCall said later, still smiling. “And he listened to me!”
The late-afternoon service, which was presided over by the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, included a congregational hymn, “Amazing Grace” (Walsh sang along), as well as a few musical selections sung by Boston church choirs. More than 15 members of clergy from houses of worship across the city spoke. Some read passages from holy books, others recited the words of poets, others read writings from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The words of most were based upon the themes of the service: serving together, building together, and moving forward together.
But the Rev. John J. Ahern, the priest at Walsh’s longtime parish, offered a more directly personal prayer to the mayor-elect. “Marty — and in less than 20 hours, Mayor Walsh: The days ahead of you are bright and full of promise,” he said.
But, Ahern added, there will also be days touched by exhaustion and doubt, confusion and difficulty. In those hard times, he encouraged Walsh to reach out to God, but also to his family, friends, and the citizens of the city who elected him mayor.
“In their heart of hearts, in our heart of hearts,” Ahern said, “we know that as good a city as Boston is at this moment in time, the best days, under your leadership, are ahead of us.”
The assembled clergy then gathered around Walsh who bowed his head as they laid their hands on him and prayed.
The mayor-elect lit “a candle of hope” for the city and offered some words of thanks, on the eve of becoming the city’s new chief executive.
“I am so grateful,” he said, “for the opportunity to be able to lead the people of Boston.”