Considered one of the most powerful figures behind the scenes in state government at the time, Charles J. Hamilton walked a fine line in 1972 as assistant director of the newly launched Massachusetts State Lottery.
Patronage was king. Political leaders were clamoring to get the new jobs for their supporters. Dr. Hamilton, who worked under Treasurer Robert Crane, had to hire professionals who would make the lottery succeed.
“We could recommend people, but they would not hire nitwits,” said former House speaker David Bartley. “The lottery became one of the most successful in the country. Bob Crane should get credit for that and Charlie Hamilton should get credit for it, too.”
“Charlie was the best,” Bartley said. “He could walk into any office. When the lottery needed anything, he got it.”
Dr. Hamilton, a Dorchester native whose career in state government spanned three governors, died Sept. 8 at his home in Quincy at age 90. He had just finished working out at his gym and was watching golf on television when he died, according to his friend and business partner, Peter O’Neill.
Born into a Vaudeville family in 1922, Dr. Hamilton also was known for performing in piano bars in Boston and New York. One of his favorite numbers was “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“He had a wonderful voice. He’d knock your socks off,” said O’Neill, recalling Dr. Hamilton singing at the Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan with legendary pianist Bobby Short, or at the Lenox Hotel in the Back Bay, where he celebrated his 70th birthday with the cast of “Nunsense’’.
“He loved people whether they were high falutin’, or as he liked to say, ‘little people, like where I came from,’ ”O’Neill said.
Dr. Hamilton, who earned his doctorate in education from Boston University, grew up in the Meeting House Hill section of Dorchester. He was son of the Marie F. (Madden) and John F., whose stage name was Frank.
He leaves a sister, Virginia M. Savage of Quincy; and several nieces and nephews. Burial was in Blue Hill Cemetery in Braintree.
He graduated from the High School of Commerce and earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from the New England School of Law’s Coolidge College. He later earned a master’s in public administration from Suffolk University.
Dr. Hamilton served in the Army in the South Pacific during World War II and became a sergeant, according to O’Neill.
After the war, he was elected chairman of Dorchester’s Ward 15 Democratic Committee and later became president of the Young Democrats of New England. He worked on many campaigns over the years and was friendly with the biggest names in Democratic politics, according to his friends. As a member of the Electoral College in 1964, he cast his vote for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1958, he went to work for Attorney General Edward J. McCormack Jr. and became McCormack’s executive secretary and chief investigator. In 1963, he became assistant to the state purchasing agent, amassing contacts throughout state and federal government.
He once shocked McCormack by bringing actor Claude Rains to the State House after colleagues implied he fabricated a friendship with the famous British actor, who played Captain Renault in the classic film “Casablanca” in 1942.
Dr. Hamilton had met Rains in New York and struck up a friendship based on his knowledge of movie trivia, according to O’Neill. When Rains was in Boston to appear in a play, Dr. Hamilton went backstage and persuaded him to take a trip to Beacon Hill. “I always wondered who my friend Charlie worked for,” Rains told the flabbergasted attorney general, according to O’Neill.
When Rains died in 1967, Dr. Hamilton was one of a handful of people who attended his private burial in New Hampshire, O’Neill said.
At the State House, Dr. Hamilton always worked quietly behind the scenes, noted former attorney general Robert Quinn. “He had a world of friends. He was always trying to find a way to help. You never knew Charlie was there unless you were the person who needed his help,” Quinn said.
In 1974, Globe political columnist David Farrell credited Dr. Hamilton with masterminding a legendary bit of patronage, getting Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent to appoint attorney John Craven as clerk of the Boston Municipal Court.
Reporters had nicknamed Craven, who came from a Boston family deeply entrenched in politics, “Doughnuts” Craven because he brought fresh doughnuts to Sargent’s family in Dover on Sundays while he lobbied for the job. Craven later became a juvenile court judge for 23 years.
The columnist also outlined Dr. Hamilton’s maneuverings involving the highest appointments in the State Police, calling him “one of the most powerful figures in the unseen government on Beacon Hill.”
Former treasurer Crane described Dr. Hamilton as “selfless, kind” and “not interested in worldly goods.”
“He had a heart of gold. He was always for the underdog,” Crane said. “He didn’t have any big shot in him.”
Dr. Hamilton’s political skills inspired novelist Jack Flannery, a longtime aide to Sargent. In his 1977 tale, “Kell,” the story of political soldier of fortune Thomas Kell, Flannery based the character Charlie Coffey on Dr. Hamilton.
In 1980, Dr. Hamilton retired from state government and became a consultant, specializing in insurance, investments, and real estate. He also became a licensed private investigator in 1991 and was a trustee at the New England School of Law from 1970 to 1989.
Dr. Hamilton enjoyed his later years meeting friends for karaoke and sipping his favorite cocktail, champagne. He had dual citizenship in Ireland but his telephone conservations always ended in Italian. “Arrivederci,” he would say.
“He had a great outlook on life,” O’Neill said. “He used to say to me and others, ‘Look it. I’ve had a great run. How long do you think this lasts?’ ’’