As a young attorney specializing in criminal law in the 1980s, Thomas L. Largey Jr. soon became recognized for his eloquence and skill.
“Tom loved the courtroom,’’ said his wife, Kelly (Kiernan), also an attorney. “He was incredibly intelligent with a terrific sense of humor and dry wit. He was a multidimensional person. He loved video games, but could spend all day reading James Joyce.’’
Mr. Largey’s life changed drastically 16 years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, shortly after the birth of his first son. Eventually, he left the practice of law to become chief of staff to William J. Phelan, then the mayor of Quincy. He later worked in the office of Norfolk County Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti and kept working, his wife said, “right up to hospice care.”
His focus, she said, was, “how can I beat this thing?’’
Mr. Largey died of cancer May 20 at his Squantum home. He was 55.
“Tom never lost his faith in God or his sense of humor,” his wife said. “He approached cancer with optimism. When he went to Dana-Farber [for cancer treatment], he made at least one person laugh whenever he was there.’’
Mr. Largey’s longtime friend, Boston Globe photographer Stan Grossfeld, said he battled cancer with passion.
“He tried to stay on the planet as long as he could for his family. He was so courageous and never complained.” Grossfeld said. “His three sons never knew a day without cancer, but none of them ever let the disease define their life together.’’
Grossman called him “a modern-day John Adams.”
“He loved politics,” Grossman said. “He loved Quincy and did lots for it — but he loved his wife and kids more than anything.”
Toward the end of Mr. Largey’s life, when he was bedridden, he sometimes surprised everyone by making a dramatic comeback, Grossfeld said.
“His best was when he somehow left his bed and showed up at his son’s championship basketball game,” he said.
Last August, Mr. Largey and his family took their last trip together — to Rome, where they stayed at an inn in the Trastevere section.
“It came alive at night with music and wine,’’ she said. “The boys loved it.’’
Mr. Largey was born in Boston to Thomas L. and Norma (Timmins) Largey, and spent his life in Squantum.
As a boy, he could be found on the ballfield — he was the Quincy baseball league’s most valuable player at age 12 — or with his nose in a book, said his sister Dianne Brown of Squantum.
“He read and read and read,” she said.
She called him a wonderful brother as well as a “devoted son.”
“We other siblings always kiddingly referred to him as ‘my mother’s only child,’ ’’ she said.
Mr. Largey graduated from Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, from Providence College with a major in English in 1978, and New England School of Law in 1985.
Before starting law school, he worked for the City of Boston and tended bar in Harvard Square.
He and Kelly married in 1992.
In 1988, Mr. Largey won his first appellate case before the Supreme Judicial Court, with a reversal of first-degree murder charges against two brothers accused of killing a man in Brockton, said Quincy attorney William F. Sullivan, his longtime friend and partner in a criminal law practice for 18 years.
“He was a huge baseball fan and winning that appellate case was like being starting pitcher on opening day of the World Series,’’ he said.
Mr. Largey’s law practice was not confined to high-profile cases, Sullivan said. “Tom would contribute much of his time to helping and advising many people in Quincy who needed legal help but could not afford it,” he said. “He quietly helped many people who had nowhere else to go for legal help.
“Tom was fearless in the courtroom,” said Sullivan.
In 2002, Mr. Largey became chief of staff for Phelan.
“One of Largey’s most visible roles has been as the mayor’s representative at City Council meetings, which have become somewhat hostile affairs in recent months,” wrote the Patriot Ledger the following year. “He has not shied away from interjecting when he believes Phelan’s stance on an issue is being misrepresented.’’
In a phone interview Phelan called Mr. Largey “intelligent and courageous.’’
He was “a trusted advisor with a clear sense of right and wrong,” Phelan said. “He was not a glad-hander, but always had the best interest of the city at heart.”
No matter what the job, Mr. Largey could handle it, he said.
“When our treasurer retired and we couldn’t find an immediate replacement, Tom stepped in,” Phelan said in the interview. “He also took over as the superintendent of the Department of Public Works and as city solicitor when we needed him to fill those roles.’’
In 2008, with Phelan left office, Mr. Largey went to work for Bellotti.
“Tom analyzed every legal and legislative issue we dealt with in the past four years here,’’ Bellotti said. “If they changed the law, Tom would read it and give me the legal and political and operational analysis of it.’’
As his health deteriorated, friends in the Quincy community showed their love by providing meals for the family nightly for four months.
“Often they were left anonymously at the doorstep,” said Kelly. “Every single night they coordinated the deliveries; sometimes there were flowers. For me, it was a beautiful thing. It reminded me of the poem, ‘She walks in beauty, like the night.’ ’’
In addition to his wife, sister, and mother, he leaves three sons, Thomas Kiernan, Robert McGowan, and Aidan Timmins, all of Quincy; another sister, Carolyn Smith of Rangeley, Maine; and a brother, Robert of Quincy.
His sons spoke at a funeral Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Quincy on May 23, thanking their father’s medical team and the family’s friends.
“Like George Bailey, Tom Largey was truly the richest man in town,’’ said Thomas, citing his father’s many close friends.
Sullivan, his former law partner, also spoke, recalling their discussions in recent months about the writings of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who wrote that man must accept and face his challenges with courage, hope, and faith.
“That is how I’ll remember Tom,’’ he said, “as a man who faced life and his final struggle with courage, hope, and faith.’’