The former staff of Thomas M. Menino answered the call to serve him one last time on Sunday, as an honor guard to accompany the city’s longest-serving mayor as he lay in state in Faneuil Hall, while city residents by the thousands filed through the historic hall to say their personal goodbyes.
Staff members representing the two-decade Menino administration — from former low-level aides to one-time department heads and Cabinet chiefs — took half-hour or one-hour shifts, sitting stoically at the foot of the casket to ensure that the body would never be alone.
“It was without a doubt one of the most amazing hours of my life,” said former city councilor Michael Ross, after his stint in the honor guard. “You felt like you were in the presence of something — in the glow of something profound, and all the while feeling the cold coming off the people as they came into the room.
“I just felt I really had no business being there and yet the mayor even in his death was reaching out to people that he had a connection to. I was just truly honored to be part of that.”
Ross, a former Menino aide who ran for the mayor’s office last year, took a shift as honor guard with four other former staffers who were later elected to the Boston City Council: Sal LaMattina, Bill Linehan, Timothy McCarthy, and Michelle Wu.
Menino, who did not run for reelection in 2013, died last Thursday at age 71 after a battle with cancer.
Thousands of the mayor’s former constituents stood in line in cold rain that turned to sleet and then wind-whipped snow Sunday morning for the chance to pay their respects to the “urban mechanic” who reigned in Boston City Hall for 20 years.
Wu, a sitting councilor who started out as a policy fellow in the Menino administration, said she was deeply grateful to participate in the honor guard. She said she watched the citizens filing through the room and imagined that each of them had some story about Menino, some special recollection that had brought them out to pay their respects in the brutal wintry weather.
“I saw a Boy Scout troop; I saw people in City Year uniforms,” Wu said, referring to the program helping at-risk students. “I saw folks come to sing a song as their last tribute to the mayor and give a salute. . . . There were parents bringing their very young kids to say goodbye. And seniors and people from all different age groups and backgrounds.
“It represented everything he had given his life to,” she said.
Former Menino chiefs of staff took hourlong shifts in the honor guard Sunday morning, including Alyce Lee, Jim Rooney, Merita Hopkins, Judith Kurland, and David Passafaro, according to service organizers. They were on duty when Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the former US senator from Massachusetts, arrived to pay his respects. Kerry lingered for long greetings with the former chiefs of staff.
Former Boston police commissioner Paul Evans took a shift with three others who served as police commissioner under Menino: Al Goslin; William Evans; and Edward Davis, who was commissioner during perhaps the greatest crisis of Menino’s long mayoral tenure, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“I watched the people,” said Paul Evans, who was commissioner for nearly a decade, until 2003. “There were people holding ‘gracias’ signs from the Hispanic community. There were Asians, Vietnamese. It was the whole city coming together. It was everybody. He was a mayor for the entire city and that crowd [on Sunday] reflected the city.
“I just thought of how many lives he touched,” Evans said, recalling his hour on the honor guard. “And how many lives he made better. And I think that was reflected in the makeup of the crowd. It was touching. It was hard not to feel proud of what this man accomplished and all the good he did for the city.”
Evans said that seeing so many familiar faces from the administration reminded him of the “sense of purpose and teamwork that Tom Menino brought to us, the way we worked together.”
Former Menino press secretary Carole Brennan took her shift on the honor guard Sunday afternoon, enjoying a time of quiet reflection about her one-time boss.
“It’s such an incredibly special honor to be able to support my friend one more time,” she said.
Members of Menino’s Office of Neighborhood Services were scheduled to handle the overnight shift Sunday night, which was intended to be a symbolic nod to the office’s after-hours work responding to emergencies and the needs of Boston neighborhoods.