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Larry Rasky, legendary Boston PR executive and confidant of Biden, dies at 69

To get a sense of Larry Rasky’s natural affinity for public relations and political consulting, it helps to know that he didn’t step into his first major campaign job in the late 1970s from the ranks of reporters or aspiring spin doctors.

He was a security guard.

Mr. Rasky, the chairman and chief executive of Boston-based public relations firm Rasky Partners, and a legendary consultant who helped guide the campaigns of several top Democratic candidates, was 69 when he died Sunday morning in his Quincy home.

His son, Will Rasky, said his father died not long after waking up, and the cause of death was uncertain.

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Mr. Rasky was a confidant of Joe Biden, the former vice president, and last fall he helped launch Unite the Country, a super PAC to support Biden’s presidential bid.

“He was a real friend,” Biden said by phone Sunday evening.

“He was also generous and sharp and he just had a spirit about him. His passion for politics was amazing,” Biden added.

At earlier, difficult political junctures “he gave me confidence,” Biden said. “No matter how down I was going into something, that ridiculous laugh of his would always make a difference. He always knew when to kid and when not to kid.”

Massachusetts Democratic politics can feel like a family, said John F. Kerry, on whose early US Senate campaign Mr. Rasky had served as communications director, “and Larry was one of the heads of the family, without any question.”

Mr. Rasky, he added, “was one of the most experienced, most capable, most well-liked, and in a way iconic” members of that group, which stretches back to the 1970s.

When Mr. Rasky joined those ranks more than 40 years ago, though, he was finishing what he described — honestly but with a slight PR flourish — as “a long and unillustrious” academic career that brought him an Emerson College bachelor’s degree at age 27.

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At the end of the 1970s, he was working security in a building that housed the campaign headquarters for President Jimmy Carter’s reelection bid and Joseph Timilty’s final run for Boston mayor,

As top campaign workers came and went, Mr. Rasky spoke so knowingly about politics that he was soon sent to Iowa, where he worked on Carter’s primary campaign before becoming deputy press secretary for the Carter-Mondale national campaign.

The rest of his career became the stuff of public relations legend in Boston, the state, and the nation, much of it through firms he founded or cofounded: Paradigm Consultants, Rasky & Co., Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, and Rasky Partners.

He had served as Biden’s press secretary when the then-US senator from Delaware ran for president in 1988 and was a close adviser for Biden’s subsequent bids.

Mr. Rasky’s list of candidate-clients formed a who’s who of Democratic elected officials in Massachusetts, among them Kerry; Raymond L. Flynn, a mayor of Boston; and a state treasurer, Robert Crane.

“I think the reason people loved him was his deep loyalty to his friends and the causes he believes in,” said US Senator Ed Markey, for whom Mr. Rasky had worked when Markey was a member of the US House of Representatives. “It’s something that just drew people to him, and it’s why so many people are missing him today.”

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Candidates and elected officials also valued Mr. Rasky’s expertise in deciphering indecipherable public policy.

“He had an uncanny ability to take complex issues, reduce them to a simple form, and then communicate a message which could change the way in which people viewed that issue,” Markey said.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who had sought Mr. Rasky’s counsel since serving in the state House of Representatives in the late 1990s, said the death was “a big loss for our community,” and for him personally.

“It was kind of a stop-in-your-tracks moment when I heard this morning,” Walsh said. “It makes you take a step back.”

Along with political clients, Mr. Rasky and his firm represented people and institutions in retail, health care, philanthropy, higher education, and sports.

The Rasky Baerlein incarnation of his firm, which he formed with Joseph Baerlein, worked on what became the winning bid by John Henry and his partners to purchase the Boston Red Sox. Henry also now owns The Boston Globe.

Though Mr. Rasky grew up across the Hudson River from New York City, he became a Red Sox fan, traveling regularly to spring training games. His love of baseball was such that Markey used the sport as a metaphor to describe Mr. Rasky’s ability to manage any crisis.

“When your team is in desperate straits,” Markey said, “Larry Rasky would be the relief pitcher you would bring in to strike out the other side and win the game.”

Lawrence B. Rasky was born Feb. 9, 1951, and grew up in Teaneck, N.J., the son of Albert Rasky, who had an interior decoration and furniture business, and Sarah Novick, a school secretary.

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He graduated from Teaneck High School and ended up in Boston, where his tenure at Emerson lasted longer than that of most students.

“At various points of my adolescence I thought I was going to be the great American novelist, a radio deejay, or somehow active in politics,” he told the Globe in 1990.

His allegiance to Emerson remained constant. He graduated in 1978 and at the time of his death was a trustee emeritus.

After Carter’s presidential reelection bid fell short, Mr. Rasky and Allen Stern formed Paradigm Consultants, where among their clients was Flynn in his successful run for Boston mayor.

The firm closed afterward, and Mr. Rasky was a top campaign aide for John Glenn’s Democratic primary bid in Iowa in 1984.

“I had been in a couple of Boston mayor’s races, which is a well-known training ground for national politics,” Mr. Rasky told C-SPAN, describing his qualifications that February.

That video interview, from when he was 33, showed Mr. Rasky as so many knew him: carefully considering questions, and never rushing answers.

“Larry spoke kind of slowly and methodical,” Walsh said. “When I asked him for advice, he thought it all through before he spoke.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Rasky was hardly a buttoned-down policy wonk. He could handicap horse races with the best of them, and “he loved music,” said his son, Will Rasky, an associate vice president at Rasky Partners and an adviser to the Unite the Country PAC.

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“He was enamored in particular with jam bands,” Will Rasky added, “and he was a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead.”

Mr. Rasky “kind of had the energy of a teenager, but the wisdom of the ages all wrapped in one person,” Markey recalled.

In 1986, Mr. Rasky married Carolyn Eckel, who worked on art in national ad campaigns for advertising agencies.

“Our family can barely bring ourselves to find any words about the loss we feel. He was a good and loyal friend, and he gave his love to everyone in equal measure,” she and Will Rasky said in a statement.

“We lost Larry too soon, but we will always carry the marks of the love he showed to his family and friends,” they said, adding that “Larry put other people first every day, and our best tribute to him will be time do the same.”

A memorial service will be announced for Mr. Rasky, who in addition to his wife and son leaves his parents, who live in Lantana, Fla., and his sister, Renee Chernus of Novato, Calif.

“I don’t believe Larry ever studied or took a course in PR or media relations. And yet I have never seen a better practitioner — as a crisis counselor, a consigliere to politicians, an adviser to corporate titans, and an adviser to the many causes he championed,” said Justine Griffin, managing director of Rasky Partners, who added that “you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the local media or political and corporate world who didn’t at one time or another seek his counsel.”

At the top of that list was Biden, whose success Mr. Rasky had long sought and helped guide.

“Somebody called me today and said that part of Larry’s life dream was to see Joe Biden elected president of the United States,” Walsh said. “My comment was, ‘He’s helping from above today.’ ”

John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.