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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Robert H. Quinn, 85, former attorney general, legislator

Mr. Quinn testified in 1973.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mr. Quinn testified in 1973

His name is synonymous with the program that offers bigger paychecks to Massachusetts police officers who earn college degrees.

Former Massachusetts attorney general Robert H. Quinn, who died Sunday at his Falmouth vacation home at age 85, sponsored the Quinn Bill in 1970, which created incentives for officers to study criminal justice and ushered in an era of new professionalism in policing.

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The Massachusetts Police Association named him Man of the 20th Century, and Mr. Quinn was often asked to pose for pictures with officers who wanted to meet the man behind the landmark legislation, said James T. Morris, his law partner.

“They were thrilled to meet him,” Morris said. “This man was one of the giants. He had a way with words and a way with people. There was something about him, a sweetness. He just was joyful.”

A native of Dorchester’s Savin Hill section, Mr. Quinn was a burly 6-foot-2-inch former Boston College High School football star who won his first term in the Legislature in 1957 and was speaker of the House for two terms.

He seemed imbued with a sense of gratitude for life after he survived a near-fatal bout with tuberculosis during his freshman year at Boston College in the late 1940s, said his friends.

A star tackle who had already made the varsity team, Mr. Quinn was playing against Holy Cross when he began bleeding heavily from his nose and mouth. He spent the next two years in a sanitarium in Mattapan. The prognosis was so dire that a family member bought a suit to bury him in, his family said.

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Mr. Quinn recovered and finished his degree, graduating magna cum laude with the class of 1952. He earned his law degree from Harvard in 1955.

Each year, Mr. Quinn would mark the anniversary of his sanitarium stay. “He would raise a toast over lunch or something,” Morris said.

His love for politics and Savin Hill never left him. The youngest of seven children, Mr. Quinn was 6 when his father, Michael, a Galway farmer who emigrated from Ireland, died of pneumonia.

His father and his mother, Katherine, first moved to Auckland Street in Savin Hill in 1919. Mr. Quinn had recently downsized from his large home in Milton and returned to the old family homestead.

“He was an exciting man to be around,” his daughter Elaina Quinn said. “People would always stop him and say hello. It was always happiness for him.”

The cause of his death was not available Monday.

Mr. Quinn was also remembered for his role in the state’s decision to locate the University of Massachusetts Boston campus on Columbia Point in Dorchester in the 1970s.

“The University of Massachusetts Boston has lost a true friend in Robert Quinn,’’ UMass Chancellor J. Keith Motley said in a statement. “Bob was a strong advocate for access to public higher education, and as a cofounder of UMass Boston, he opened the doors to urban public higher education in our city.”

UMass Boston created the Robert H. Quinn Award in 1987 to honor those who embody Mr. Quinn’s devotion to education for all. He was chairman of the UMass board of trustees from 1981 to 1986.

“He believed in education,” said James T. Brett, a former Dorchester state representative. “Education got him where he was, and he spent a lot of time with a lot of young people of Savin Hill and the Dorchester community encouraging them to continue their education.”

Mr. Quinn became attorney general when the Legislature appointed him to replace Elliot Richardson, who left the attorney general’s office to join the Nixon administration. The voters elected Mr. Quinn as attorney general in 1970, and he later became president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

On Monday, Attorney General Martha Coakley called Mr. Quinn a passionate public servant.

“Often on the forefront of some of the country’s most pressing issues, General Quinn established the Environmental Protection Division in the attorney general’s office, led a multi-state coalition to challenge the federal government’s ability to drill for oil off our shores, and established the New England Organized Crime Intelligence System,” she said in a statement. “We will miss his vision and leadership, and I will miss his friendship and sound advice.”

In 1974, Mr. Quinn gave up the attorney general’s office in a bid to win the Democratic nomination for governor. He lost to Michael S. Dukakis.

Pundits pegged his loss to a tide of antiestablishment fervor fueled by the Watergate scandal and the use by his campaign of last-minute negative ads.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Quinn told a Globe reporter about his battle against being labeled a “Boston pol.”

“The ‘Boston pol’ is a shibboleth Boston Brahmins used a generation ago, a prejudice against the Democratic stronghold of Boston,” he said. “Would I be less a ‘Boston pol’ if I moved to Weymouth or Milton? When I’m called a “Boston pol’ it’s a way of calling attention to where I live. It’s a socially partisan phrase. Put another way, it could be, ‘How does a guy from Savin Hill get off holding the job Elliot Richardson did?’ It reeks of prejudice.”

In addition to his daughter Elaina of Dorchester, Mr. Quinn leaves his wife, Claudina (Pyne); his daughters Andrea Quinn Bernardo of Rockville, Md., and Stephanie Fallon of Milton; his son, Michael Quinn of Norwood; a sister, Catherine M. Keating of Hyde Park; seven grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday at Blessed Mother Teresa Parish on Columbia Road in Dorchester.

Mr. Quinn founded J. Quinn & Morris in 1979, a firm focusing on personal injury, workers’ compensation claims, and government relations.

In recent years, Mr. Quinn sought to defend the Police Career Incentive Pay Program against critics who contend the program has achieved its aims and is too costly for the state and cities and towns.

Scaling back the Quinn Bill “would demoralize our police departments and discourage people from remaining police or deciding to become police,” Mr. Quinn said in an interview recorded in his Boston law office in 2009 and posted on YouTube.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was a legislator from the same district as Mr. Quinn, said in a statement that he was proud to see Mr. Quinn at his inauguration.

“Robert Quinn dedicated his life in service of the Commonwealth, and his legacy as a statesman and advocate for justice will be felt for generations to come,” Walsh said. “He championed his namesake bill and, through this work, was able to open the doors for young men and women to pursue successful and fruitful careers in law enforcement.

“I was honored to represent his former House district and proud to have him stand with me at my inauguration one week ago today,” he said. “General Quinn held a deep love for Dorchester, in particular for his neighborhood of Savin Hill, and I will always hold great respect for him as a friend and as an outstanding state representative and House speaker.”

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@me.com.

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