In his early 50s and by no measure a young radical, Jerome Grossman forever established his progressive liberal credentials by originating the idea for the Oct. 15, 1969, Vietnam Moratorium, which drew an estimated 100,000 antiwar protesters to Boston Common in the what was then the biggest demonstration in city history.
By then, however, his political roots as a peace activist and opponent of nuclear weapons ran deep, and he had never shied from quixotic crusades. In 1962, he managed the independent US Senate campaign of H. Stuart Hughes, a Harvard professor who lost resoundingly to Edward M. Kennedy, even while the Hughes candidacy drew attention to Mr. Grossman’s passion for nuclear disarmament.
Then came the 1970 campaign for the state’s Third Congressional District, when Mr. Grossman promoted the antiwar candidacy of the Rev. Robert Drinan. The Boston College Law School dean defeated 14-term incumbent Philip J. Philbin in the Democratic primary and went on to serve in the US House, victories that helped usher into office a wave of liberal Massachusetts Democrats, among them Barney Frank and John Kerry, who at Mr. Grossman’s urging stepped aside in the caucus that led to Drinan’s 1970 insurgent run.
“The Drinan victory over Philbin was a defining moment in the history of progressive politics in Massachusetts,” said state Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is Mr. Grossman’s nephew.
“Jerry Grossman was such an extraordinarily important political figure and had such a transformative effect on Massachusetts politics,” said Frank, who served in the US House for 32 years.
Mr. Grossman, who concisely summed up his extensive progressive politics resume in two words by calling his 1996 memoir “Relentless Liberal,” died Dec. 18 in the NewBridge on the Charles retirement community in Dedham. He was 96 and though his health had been failing, he lived for 18 months after physicians predicted he had only days left.
“He had an incredible role in the creation of the modern Democratic Party in Massachusetts and the country,” said US Senator Edward Markey, who spoke at Mr. Grossman’s memorial service Sunday.
“Jerry’s political resume wasn’t just a list of jobs and positions, it was a declaration of principle,” Kerry, a former longtime senator who is now secretary of state, wrote in a letter read at the service.
Recalling his own ambition to run against Philbin in 1970, Kerry wrote that “Jerry then was the principled Pied Piper of progressive politics — but he was also the boiler room strategist and tactician for whom no detail was too small.” Although Mr. Grossman persuaded him to step aside in 1970, Kerry wrote he was “determined that if ever I ran for office again, I wanted Jerry Grossman in my corner. And boy was I lucky to have exactly that across the decades ahead.”
Even though Mr. Grossman’s legacy reaches from state politics into Congress and the president’s Cabinet, he was equally adamant about stopping war and reducing the threat of nuclear arms.
Mr. Grossman “was a five-star general for the cause of peace,” Markey said. “The other side had generals and we needed one as well, and that was Jerry.” He added that Mr. Grossman “was like an Old Testament prophet who warned us of the folly of man and helped create a pathway for the avoidance of catastrophe.”
Born in 1917, more than a year before the end of World War I, Mr. Grossman developed liberal intellectual leanings as a teenager. “I somehow began reading The Nation magazine when I was 14 years old,” he said in a Lexington Oral History Projects interview in 1996. “I’ve always been an avid reader. They had to throw me out of the library.”
After graduating from Harvard College in 1938, he became executive vice president of Massachusetts Envelope Co., the business run by his father, Maxwell Grossman, who had been a port commissioner. But by 1956, Mr. Grossman wrote prophetically in an anniversary report of his Harvard class that he had “developed a strong interest in politics, and have tried to further my point of view by action whenever possible.”
For more than 35 years, until he stepped down from the presidency of his family’s company and sold his interest to his brother, Edgar, he juggled political involvement with work, a family that included three children, and a host of community activities in the Waban section of Newton.
He married Rosalyn Gruber in June 1942, after they met at Nantasket Beach, where his family spent summers. “He saw her and fell in love, and that was all she wrote,” said their daughter, Marilyn Grossman Jackson, of Mill Valley, Calif.
Mrs. Grossman died in 2011.
In 1968, Mr. Grossman wrote in a Harvard class report that “the crises of war and race which haunt the USA are with me every waking moment.” As for his political and nuclear disarmament activities, “the pace has become almost a frenzy, as though by sheer activity I could ward off the impending disasters.”
He was a founder or leader of organizations including Massachusetts Political Action for Peace, Citizens for Participation in Political Action, and the Council for a Livable World, and was on the steering committees for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in 1968 and George McGovern’s in 1972.
“I can’t even remember how many people would come to the office when they were in the infancy of their political careers,” said Mr. Grossman’s son Danny of Mill Valley, Calif., who worked with his father for many years in the family’s envelope business. More recently, he helped his father establish a blog, relentlessliberal.blogspot.com.
“He was about putting out ideas and getting people to think about issues,” Mr. Grossman’s son said.
“He was always analyzing,” his daughter said. “Even though he knew it wasn’t going to be part of his future, he knew it was going to affect the future of his children and his grandchildren and his grandchildren’s children.”
Along with his Democratic Party activism, Mr. Grossman was a radio commentator, served on the executive board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and taught at Tufts University, where among his courses was one he dubbed “how to be politically effective.”
“And when nobody is watching, I write poetry in secret about what I really think,” he confided in 1983 in a Harvard class report.
While living for many years in Newton and Wellesley, Mr. Grossman spent summers at Nantasket Beach, heading there after work, stepping into the waves, and swimming the length of the beachfront.
“He was alike a Greek god out there, stroke after stroke after stroke, swimming the beach after he had worked all day,” his nephew recalled.
In addition to his son Danny, daughter, Marilyn, and nephew, Steven, Mr. Grossman leaves another son, Richard of Brighton; his sister, Ruth Sidel of New York City; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Grossman, Frank said, “had both the political smarts and the ideological passion to transform Massachusetts’ Democrats. He was a very important source of support and guidance for a lot of us.”
Markey recalled that as decades passed, Mr. Grossman “had the energy of a teenager and the wisdom of a grand- father.”
In 1988, when Mr. Grossman had been an activist for more than 30 years, he sounded as fresh as a newcomer to political battles when he wrote for a Harvard class report:
“I remain what I have always been, an incorrigible optimist, undismayed by short-term setbacks, with an irrational faith in the future of the human species.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.