Eight years after he walked into history, Governor Deval Patrick walked out of the State House Wednesday, proud of his accomplishments but eager to become a private citizen again after two tumultuous terms.
Taking the traditional “Lone Walk” out of the governor’s office, Patrick departed through the State House’s rarely used front doors and emerged misty-eyed into a bitterly cold evening. He placed his hand over his heart as a marching band played the national anthem.
Following the blasts of a 19-gun salute, he hugged his former aides, some of whom wept openly, and gave his wife, Diane, a long embrace. The departing governor then paused on the running board of a waiting SUV for one final wave to cheering supporters and was whisked away.
Patrick’s final full day in office — filled with prayer, pageantry, and the proferring of political presents to Governor-elect Charlie Baker — was a bittersweet bookend to his path-breaking election in 2006 as the state’s first African-American governor.
On Thursday, he will board a flight to South America for a long, warm-weather vacation, just after he officially cedes power to Baker, his former nemesis from the fiercely fought 2010 governor’s race.
“It’s been a great run,” Patrick said at his final press briefing Wednesday. “We’ve had a really productive eight years. I’m proud of the record. I’m proud of the foundation that we’re leaving for the next administration and how smoothly the transition has gone. But I’m also ready to have my life back.”
Patrick governed through a deep recession and the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. He has said he is proud of the initiatives he led to expand charter schools, stimulate the clean energy and biotechnology industries, and streamline the transportation bureaucracy.
More controversially, he legalized casinos and was beset by a series of management problems with the state’s health care website and the child welfare system, among other areas.
Patrick now plans to rejoin the private sector.
“It’s not like I’ve been counting days and minutes; it’s just time,” he said. “It’s time for my family. It’s time for me.”
The Lone Walk dates to Governor Benjamin Butler’s departure in 1884. Butler was so unpopular that he left the State House alone, bereft of friends and fanfare, according to Robert J. Allison, a Suffolk University historian.
These days, the tradition is preserved as a symbol of the exiting governor’s return to private life, and it has become something of a celebration of his or her tenure.
Patrick’s farewell began with a morning prayer service at Roxbury Presbyterian Church attended by leaders of various religions.
At the State House, he administered the oaths of office to House and Senate members, accepting applause from a crowd that, he has said, still treats him as an outsider, even after eight years in office.
Later, Patrick decided not to support pay raises to those legislators, who currently earn about $73,000 on average. Under the state Constitution, he was required to rule by Wednesday whether lawmakers’ base pay should be adjusted based on changes in the state’s median household income over the last two years. But, in a letter released Wednesday night, after he had the left the State House, he said the available income data did not support any change in pay. “I regret this outcome,” he wrote.
Earlier in the day, Patrick and his wife met with Baker and his wife, Lauren, in the governor’s office. The couples sat on separate sofas, sipping champagne, as a fire crackled in a fireplace behind them.
As cameras rolled, Patrick handed Baker four traditional gifts that symbolize the continuity of power: a pewter key, once used to unlock the original governor’s office; Butler’s bible from 1884; a gavel made out of white oak from the USS Constitution; and two volumes of the Massachusetts laws, dating to 1860, inscribed with a message from the outgoing governor to his successor.
“You can read it at your leisure,” Patrick told Baker, without revealing the contents.
During the meeting, Baker said he has chosen to hang a portrait of Governor John Volpe in his office. Baker’s father worked for Volpe after Volpe became transportation secretary under President Nixon.
Diane Patrick told Lauren Baker, “I will always be available to you” and suggested they get together soon.
After the meeting, the two men shook hands at the threshold of the governor’s office, and Patrick began his lone walk through the State House’s marble corridors, packed with hundreds of dignitaries.
He seemed to grow most emotional when fourth graders from Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury recited part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In 2012, Patrick had invited that same group of students, then first graders, to recite the speech for President Obama at the White House.
Stepping outside onto the State House steps, Patrick basked in cheers from a crowd of supporters on Beacon Street, some of whom held signs thanking him for his service.
Alex Papali, 40, an Indian immigrant who works for Clean Water Action, said he wanted to thank the governor for opposing Secure Communities, a federal program targeting illegal immigrants, and for pledging to welcome unaccompanied children fleeing Central America amid a heated national debate last year.
“He’s really taken some political risks,” said Papali, who lives in Jamaica Plain. “For that and for many other things, it’s important for the people to show their gratitude at the end of a period of accomplishment. He’s really done a lot.”
Patrick seemed to be taking it all in and emphasized that it has been an honor to serve as governor. But he said there’s one aspect of public life he won’t miss: having a State Police detail accompany him everywhere he goes.
“Going to the grocery store without a state trooper?” he said. “Kind of looking forward to that.”David Scharfenberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.