As newly inaugurated Governor Maura Healey formally introduces herself and her plans to the Commonwealth, there’s one more thing she is now delighted to share.
She has a partner.
For almost two years, Healey has been in a relationship with Joanna Lydgate, an attorney and her former deputy in the attorney general’s office, who now heads a Washington nonprofit trying to safeguard our endangered democracy.
Until now, Healey has been quite circumspect when it comes to this part of her personal life. But being governor requires her to share more of herself than she did as attorney general, she said. More importantly, the women and their families are finally ready for the couple to step into view.
“I feel really happy today, being able to tell this story,” Healey said Friday evening, holding hands with Lydgate on a couch in the governor’s rented North Cambridge apartment. Healey made an unannounced move to the duplex, a converted bakery in a neighborhood of triple-deckers, just before the election.
“This is a person I love very much and I have great respect and admiration for,” the governor said.
She and Lydgate have been friends since 2010, when they both began working in the civil rights division of the attorney general’s office under Martha Coakley. Lydgate worked on Healey’s campaign to succeed Coakley in 2014, then joined her office, becoming head of policy and eventually Healey’s chief deputy.
She left in the summer of 2020 to cofound and lead The States United Democracy Center, a Washington nonprofit that brings legal challenges to protect voting rights, and, with the District of Columbia, has sued the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Their relationship did not begin until a few months after Lydgate left the AG’s office, they said.
“Working together in the office, we were always really close,” Healey said. “After we stopped working together we realized this is something more … than just being best friends, and it has been a really beautiful, unexpected journey.”
By then, Healey had separated from her longtime partner. And, Lydgate said, she and her husband had “lovingly and mutually” parted, too. Their divorce will soon be finalized. She and her husband, a consultant who advises nonprofits, have been sharing custody of their two children, ages 9 and 11, each parent living part time in the home outside Boston where the kids are growing up.
“It was definitely a slow, gradual understanding for me because I had been married to a man for many years,” Lydgate said. “But it also has been so wonderful, and like something just clicked for me in my life.”
Her husband was the first person with whom Lydgate shared the news that she had feelings for Healey, and he has been supportive.
“Supportive isn’t a strong enough word,” Lydgate said. “He has just been amazing.”
“To both of us,” Healey added.
Lydgate’s soon-to-be-former husband, who asked not to be named so as to protect their children’s privacy, describes her as “a super-mom,” and is grateful for the life they’ve all built together.
“Maura is part of our family,” he said. “To our kids, she is just this person who has been in their lives since they were very young, and I am really glad they have her as a role model, and a friend, and a caregiver.”
He and the woman who is his new partner attended the inauguration celebration with Lydgate and their children. They all see a lot of each other, a modern and happy expanded family.
Lydgate, 42, and Healey, 51, share history, values, a love of basketball, and a large network of friends and family. The governor has known and loved Lydgate’s children since they were born, and they have spent plenty of time with Healey’s big family.
“It’s not easy to start over again when you have kids,” Lydgate said. “But I feel incredibly lucky to get to do that with someone with whom I have so much shared experience.”
The kids, Lydgate said, “get to experience a lot of different kinds of love in their lives, and they have a lot of grown-ups who love them and take care of them.”
“One of them just travels with a bit of an entourage sometimes,” Healey joked.
That entourage, now an around-the-clock police detail, is going to take some getting used to, Healey and Lydgate said. The governor, an inveterate backseat driver, is going to miss being behind the wheel. And she understands more of her belongs to the public now.
“As extroverted as I am, I am also a private person,” Healey said. “I think holding on to my personal relationships and close-knit circle probably helped me get through the last eight years.”
She has made her peace with this new, bigger spotlight, but Healey worries about bringing others into it. Especially now, when there are so many opportunities for people to say and do ugly things to elected officials and those dear to them.
“I chose this, and I’m fine with it,” the governor said, tears coming to her eyes. “But I think for [our] families and people in our lives who are close to us … they have to get used to it.”
That is why they didn’t rush to share news of their relationship before now, they said, insisting it had nothing to do with politics: They believe the voters who gave Healey a landslide victory would have been just as supportive if they’d known. And it’s not as if Lydgate would have had time to go out on the trail anyway.
They also needed “the time and space to figure out what [the relationship] was,” Lydgate said. “We wanted to get the kids acclimated to this new life and new iteration of our family.”
Healey came out after college, while she was playing basketball in Europe, where nobody knew her. She wanted Lydgate to have as much privacy as possible as she came to terms with her own identity. So she drew clear lines when it came to discussing her relationships.
Until now, which feels like the right time to step into the open.
Lydgate will not be a public fixture, though. She is raising her kids and coaching basketball and soccer, and her work at States United is more urgent and demanding than ever.
“Right now I am focused on trying to protect democracy for 2024, so that is going to be my primary job, in addition to being a mom,” Lydgate said.
And because she is helping to take on insurrectionists and election deniers, it is work that makes her a target for doxing and other attacks, so she is reluctant to step too often into public view. They’re bracing for some nastiness in the wake of their announcement, but expect Massachusetts will be as accepting as it usually is.
“Our hope and belief is that people will see the governor who is in a happy relationship, a relationship like anyone else’s, where she folds the laundry,” Lydgate said. “Because of the job, her private life is more public, but it is also just her life.”
And that governor is pinching herself.
“If you had asked us 10 years ago, either of us, we absolutely could never have imagined or contemplated we would end up where we are now, together,” Healey said. “I feel really, really lucky.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.