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Dan Mullin, a philanthropist generous with the gift of his friendship, dies at 78

Dan Mullin
Dan Mullin

Dan Mullin’s optimism and a sparkling positive outlook were part of why hundreds wanted to be counted among his closest friends, and those traits were characteristically on display while he was treated for cancer the past six years.

“He would hear an update on the status of his cancer with the doctor saying, ‘You’ve got three tumors that are growing and one that is unchanged,’ ” his nephew Dan Scheib recalled, “and Dan would turn to me and say, ‘Isn’t that great? One tumor’s unchanged.’ ”

Valued for his kindness and wise counsel, Mr. Mullin was a go-to real estate agent for buyers seeking someone who seemed to know everything about every property in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

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In the business world, as in the rest of his life, “he just had the most positive way of looking at everything,” said his friend Cathy E. Minehan, former president and CEO of Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “But he wasn’t saccharine. He knew all the downsides of everything, too, but he always had a funny way of looking at it. He had an insight that would inform you, make you chuckle, sometimes make you think.”

Mr. Mullin, who also had been a longtime fund-raiser for arts and AIDS advocacy organizations, died at home in Beacon Hill on Nov. 26 of melanoma that had metastasized. He was 78 and also had a home in Provincetown that was a magnet for friends and relatives, and a must fund-raising stop for politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Pete Buttigieg.

“Hey Dan, it’s Pete,” Buttigieg said during a series of video tributes recorded for Mr. Mullin’s birthday. “I am thrilled to be joining your virtual birthday party and want you to know that Chasten and I are wishing you a very happy 78th birthday.”

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“Oh hello, Dan,” Clinton said in the same video. “I so wish we could be together in person, but I’m delighted to join your friends and family in surprising and honoring you on your birthday. I have such fond, fond memories of being together at your beautiful home in Provincetown. Thank you for your years of friendship and support, and happy birthday, my friend.”

Mr. Mullin may have opened his home to the famous — “Celebrate yourself. You certainly earned it,” Joe Kennedy III said on the birthday video — but his heart was equally with those whose names would never be well known.

AIDS Action was among the charities he supported, and during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

“Dan helped countless friends and strangers by putting a roof over their heads, giving them money to survive, helping to bury them, and consoling their families. He was one of the unsung heroes doing what he knew was simply the right thing to do,” said his friend Bryan Rafanelli during a funeral Mass in December at St. Cecilia Church in the Back Bay.

“For me, personally, he was inspirational,” said the Rev. John Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia, which Mr. Mullin attended — sitting where he could catch Unni’s eye with a nod of encouragement or a grinning motion to wrap it up if a homily stretched too long.

“Danny was a faith guy and he would show up at church not to just go out of a sense of duty,” said Unni, who added that he always was impressed at how close Mr. Mullin was to his many relatives.

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“I would watch how he took care of his family,” Unni said. “He loved his nieces and nephews and the great-nieces and great-nephews. I just watched that dynamic and thought, ‘Man, that’s a life well lived.’ ”

In the birthday video, his sole surviving sibling, Joan Scheib of Niskayuna, N.Y., said that “family has been the most important gift in our lives. I’m so grateful to have you as my brother.”

Daniel Aloysius Mullin was born on Oct. 31, 1942, and grew up in Arlington, the youngest of five siblings.

His father, Daniel Mullin, was a salesman; his mother, Katherine O’Keefe, was a homemaker.

Mr. Mullin graduated from Boston College High School and received a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross.

Enlisting in the Coast Guard, he served stateside and later found a home in the real estate world, spending a quarter century with the Dolben Co., which is based in Woburn.

Then he founded Daniel A. Mullin & Associates, which he ran until he died, making the Back Bay and Beacon Hill his domain.

“Dan’s business life was built on multi-generational relationships. If you bought a house from him, your children would buy a house from him, and then your grandchildren would eventually buy a house from him, and recently even your great-grandchildren,” Rafanelli, a noted event planner whose clients overlapped with Mr. Mullin’s, said during the funeral Mass, which hundreds watched online.

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“His ability to charm you with his twinkling eyes, his little boyish smirk, and his deep and abiding commitment to finding you the perfect house meant you would not only be buying and selling your way through Back Bay, but buying a hell of a friend,” Rafanelli said. “Friendship with purchase: the gift of friendship with every sale.”

Mr. Mullin was known for his art collection. His taste ran to living artists, and he was an important supporter and fund-raiser for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

“Dan was the most generous human being I’ve ever met. He was involved with everything in this town, arts-wise and politically,” said Provincetown artist Anne Packard.

“He was an involved human being. Evolved and involved — a beautiful man,” said her daughter Cynthia Packard, who also is an artist.

Along with gathering art around him, Mr. Mullin collected friends, and his friendships were on constant display. His annual Christmas Eve party — not a night when many want to take time from family — always drew scores of people who found time for at least a quick appearance.

“He was the man with the perpetual smile,” said Jack Connors, a founder of the advertising firm Hill Holliday. “He really went about his life doing good. And the key to it was, he always made you feel better about yourself.”

Mr. Mullin’s sister is his only immediate survivor, though he always was in close contact with his nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.

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“He was an uncle who was like a dad, only cooler,” his nephew Dan Scheib of Needham said in an interview.

At the funeral Mass, Scheib said that as Mr. Mullin spent time with friends, and perhaps even more so with relatives, “each interaction was an opportunity to learn something new and to thank someone. He often stated, ‘I am the most fortunate person,’ stressing fortunate meant lucky and blessed at the same time.”

As Mr. Mullin neared death, family members gathered in his room with Unni for an impromptu prayer service. They also read aloud the poem “On the Death of the Beloved,” by John O’Donohue, which near the end includes the line: “May you continue to inspire us.”

“You see he really only wanted two things in life: To be fully loved and, in turn, to love others completely,” his nephew said. “Everything else in his life was a path to those ends.”


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