In and around the sturdy fortress of Boston’s City Hall on Thursday, workers’ faces were solemn, their eyes welling with tears, as they struggled to come to terms with the death of former mayor Thomas M. Menino.
The TV monitor in the building’s main hallway was dark as workers gathered in groups of two, whispering, and strangers shouted out that Menino had died.
Sitting at a parking ticket payments counter, Menino’s former scheduler, Joanne Wallace — her eyes the same color as her red sweater — could barely get the words out.
“He was an unbelievable guy,’’ said Wallace, who juggled Menino’s trademark nonstop schedule from 1993 to 2011. “He was like a father. He was amazing.”
Rose Dawkins, a teller in the collections department for 13 years, said she heard the news after a co-worker went on the Internet and saw the story.
“I didn’t expect him to go so fast,’’ said Dawkins, who said she is a cancer survivor.
She recalled a moment in 2008 when her department collected canned goods for donations and used them to form a pyramid at City Hall. Menino showed up and posed with anyone who wanted a picture.
“I have pictures with him,’’ she said. “Thank God, I have that memory.”
Rocco Addessa has worked the dusty hallways of City Hall, cleaning and sweeping up as a janitor there for the past two decades.
He teared up when he recalled Menino.
“I lost my old boss, my ex-mayor,” he said, stifling tears.
Menino was a good boss, Addessa said, one who never forgot people, no matter what their social rank.
When Addessa cleaned the horseshoe driveway outside City Hall, he’d often see Menino.
“He would joke with me,” said Addessa, who said he campaigned for Menino in his East Boston neighborhood. “He would whack me over the head with his cane, but he was just joking around. He was always joking with me.”
Two information technology workers, taking a cigarette break outside the building, said they were saddened by the fact that the former mayor had died so soon after leaving office.
One of the workers, who would identify herself only as Mel because she was not authorized to speak, recalled Menino in the early 2000s attending a big feast at a popular undertaker’s house in East Boston.
“Tom would come in and eat,’’ said Mel, who has worked for the city since the administration of former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, Menino’s predecessor. “God love him. And he could eat.”
Sergeant John Donovan of Boston Municipal Protective Services, who has worked for the city for more than 30 years, recalled Menino as someone who always recognized city workers, no matter their status.
“He always said hi,’’ Donovan said. “He was very polite. He didn’t just walk by any city worker without speaking.”
In addition to city workers, the news hit executives, lawyers, and average folks who, in one way or another, were touched by Menino.
Joe Cicconi, a sidewalk contractor whose family business has worked with the city for three decades, said he had numerous pictures of Menino with his father through the years.
“He was very good to us,’’ said the owner of Cicconi & Sons Construction in Boston. “He did a lot of good for this city. He will be missed.”
John Connell, a liquor license lawyer, said he did a lot of work with the city and was always struck by the power and force of Menino.
“Menino was a very powerful force for the good for the Boston restaurant industry,’’ Connell said. “And he brought this city from the days of Jimmy’s Harborside to the days of Liberty Wharf. No other business in town bears the imprimatur of his force for change more than the restaurant industry.”
Flags were lowered to half-staff outside City Hall.
Across the street, outside of Faneuil Hall, some people yelled out the news of Menino’s passing. Some were surprised to learn that the city’s longest-serving mayor was actually gone.
“That’s just crazy. I just saw him on the news saying he was ending cancer treatment. And now he’s dead,’’ said Kim “Universal’’ Fair, a street performer.
Fair, whose group is the Yak Crew, regularly dances on a plaza near the area where the former mayor’s SUV would pull in and drop him off.
“I’d see him getting in his car, going and coming,’’ Fair said. “He did Boston good from what I know.”
Maryanne Show, a Newton resident, cupped her chest in shock after learning that Menino had died.
“He left an incredible legacy in this city,’’ she said. “When people think of Boston, they think of Mayor Menino.”
Walter Lopez, burdened by two heavy bags, shouted to strangers: “Menino has died!”
A North End resident, Lopez said Menino treated Boston like the city was a relative.
“He was a family-oriented guy and the city was his nephew. I met him once or twice. He was a Filene’s Basement’’ type of person, said the 77-year-old Lopez. “He gave life a sense of community. [Black or white] we were all in his parade.’’