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Nicole Hynes, who said ‘I love you’ until the end, dies at 77

Mrs. Hynes "spoke up for what she believed in and was vocal about her opinions,” said her daughter, Vanessa.
Mrs. Hynes "spoke up for what she believed in and was vocal about her opinions,” said her daughter, Vanessa.Hynes Family

Impossible to forget, Nicole Hynes’s voice was accented with the French she spoke growing up in Belgium.

Her tones could be gentle and comforting or pointed enough to ring above a Boston Garden crowd when she cheered on young Boston Bruins players she had hosted in her home, and for whom she became a second mother.

And at the end of her life, as aphasia curtailed her speech, three words lingered longest.

“As she could say fewer and fewer words, the most important phrase remained, as she continued to say ‘I love you,’ " her son, Tod, wrote in notes for a eulogy he plans to deliver at her funeral Mass Friday. “This phrase remained because it was her inner beauty and self. It was how she was able to light up the room and everyone in it. She was so full of love and shared that light and happiness with others.”

Mrs. Hynes, whose energetic charitable work made her a constant presence in Boston’s arts, education, and health care circles, was 77 when she died Friday in her Brookline home of primary progressive aphasia.

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“I don’t think we’ve ever met anyone who was as beautiful and as kind as Nicole Hynes,” said her longtime friend Jack Connors, a founder of the advertising firm Hill Holliday. “She was just a good soul. She was what so many people aspire to be, but she didn’t have to work at it — it just came naturally to her.”

She had arrived in Boston in her mid-20s to work for a while, not intending to stay permanently, and was two weeks away from returning home to Belgium when she attended a Beacon Hill party and met Tom Hynes, who was smitten.

“It was a thunderbolt from the sky,” he wrote in the eulogy he prepared, “and our lives changed forever.”

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They married and she became an integral part of the city’s charitable scene, working endlessly on behalf of institutions ranging from Massachusetts General Hospital and Falmouth Hospital to the Boston Ballet and the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole, where the Hynes family kept a vacation home.

“Her voice was dissenting and passionate,” her daughter, Vanessa of Newton, wrote for her eulogy. “She spoke up for what she believed in and was vocal about her opinions.”

Mrs. Hynes was also involved with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Golf Tournaments, and befriended his widow, Ethel Kennedy.

“She was like another member of the family, dining at least once a week with my mother in Hyannis Port,” Joseph P. Kennedy II wrote in an e-mail, recalling how Mrs. Hynes and Ethel Kennedy traveled together in the Greek islands and on missions to Haiti and South Africa.

“We all admired her Old World sense of elegance and reserve,” Kennedy said, “but also appreciated the many ways she could be spontaneous and fun with an all-embracing spirit about life.”

Unapparent to many who met Mrs. Hynes was that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her 20s, but “she never let it interfere with her activities,” her husband said in an interview.

The couple often hosted gatherings at their Woods Hole home, and one time after her diagnosis she ran the Falmouth Road Race. “Why? Because everybody else in the house was running,” Tom said.

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“She put incredible heart and soul into everything,” he added. “Here she is, from Belgium, put into an environment where she didn’t know anybody at the beginning, and at the end she knew everybody.”

The second of six siblings, Nicole Elizabeth Delava was born in Charleroi, Belgium, on Dec. 8, 1943.

She studied nursing for child care in Belgium and worked as a pediatrician’s assistant and office manager in Charleroi before becoming an au pair for families in Paris, London, Sardinia, Italy, and Boston.

At the end of the 1960s, she was a receptionist in Boston for a law firm and a hotel corporation when she met Thomas J. Hynes Jr., who is now cochairman of the Colliers International-Boston commercial real estate firm. They married in 1971.

Mrs. Hynes subsequently took courses at Emmanuel, Lesley, and Wellesley colleges.

“Nicole was ever present, very generous, always trying to reach out to people who needed more,” said Sister Janet Eisner, Emmanuel’s president.

But for all of her community involvement, which included working on various campaigns for the Kennedys and a host of other organizations, “Nicole loved being a mom and considered raising Vanessa and Tod her greatest gift in life,” Tom wrote for his eulogy.

“She was very, very involved. She went above and beyond,” Tod, who lives in Newton, said in an interview of his mother’s trips to all her children’s sports competitions.

Until health concerns prompted her to cut back, Mrs. Hynes also made annual trips to see her extended family in Belgium, including her father, Roger Delava, and her stepmother, Alice Marie Farcy Delava, who is known as Tita.

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Mrs. Hynes also was a mother figure to many others, notably three Boston Bruins players who were drafted by the team at 18 or 19 and lived for a time with the Hynes family.

“It’s probably north of 30 people who have lived at the house for months at a time, some of them years. Everyone from professional athletes to political refugees from Poland,” Tod said.

Her guidance to all was invaluable.

“She was really kind, but she had a lot of character — she had great values. She didn’t say what I wanted to hear, she told me what I needed to do,” said former Bruins player Stephane Quintal, who arrived when he was 19.

“Not to sound cliché, but she certainly became a second mother to us all,” said Rob Cimetta, who also lived with the family after the Bruins drafted him. “You’re 19 but you’re still a kid in many respects. She just embraced us as her own, really.”

Joe Thornton, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, thought he would live with the family for a year, but stayed much longer. He recalled how Mrs. Hynes would make lunch for him each game day, a key ritual in what turned out to be a challenging first year with the Bruins.

“She kept it very easy for me and really light: ‘Hey, Joe, just smile, everything’s going to be OK,’ " he said. “At a tough time for me she was a voice of reason, a real special person. I think of her as royalty, really.”

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In addition to her husband, daughter, son, and stepmother, Mrs. Hynes leaves three brothers in Belgium, Frederic, Dominique, and Patrick; a sister in Belgium, Nathalie; and three grandchildren.

A private funeral Mass will be said Friday in the Emmanuel College Chapel.

Eight-year-old Thomas Taylor, one of Mrs. Hynes’s grandchildren, wrote a eulogy he plans to deliver, said her husband, who added that she was very close to young Thomas and her other grandchildren, Clare and Thomas Hynes IV.

“It’s like she was the first grandmother ever,” he said.

As Mrs. Hynes lost her ability to speak, “it really resonates with me that she lost her voice but she didn’t lose who she was,” said her daughter, who recalled in her eulogy that “she saved up all the energy she had to always say ‘I love you’ until the end.”


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