Frank Bellotti, the best governor Massachusetts never had, turns 100 on Wednesday.
His has been an epic life, in and out of politics.
He was born in Roxbury, raised in Dorchester. He had to fight to survive because bullies picked on the small Italian kid whose dad wasn’t around. His father, Peter, an Italian immigrant, was gassed during World War I, entered a veterans hospital when Frank was an infant, and died there when Frank was a teenager.
During World War II, Frank served as an intelligence officer in the elite Navy unit that would become the SEALs.
He met his wife, Maggie, in 1948, at a Miami hotel where she was a cashier and he was chief lifeguard.
After they got married, they vowed to have a dozen children. And they did, 12 kids in 14 years.
When Maggie went into labor with their second child, their car wouldn’t start, so Frank delivered his daughter Kathleen at home. Maggie and Frank raised their kids in a house in Quincy where sprawling Sunday family dinners and lively discussions about life and love and politics remained a weekly fixture long after the kids had grown.
Maggie wasn’t big on politics, but she was big on Frank, so she hit the campaign trail with him in 1966, when he first ran for attorney general. He lost, as he did each of the three times he ran for governor. That might have crushed others. It made Frank Bellotti appreciate what he had.
What he had, his son Peter says, were people who would run through walls for him.
“With losses, even more than victories, you form real friendships, real bonds,” said Peter Bellotti, a lawyer, like his dad.
In 1974, he was elected to his first of three terms as attorney general, moved the AG’s office out of the State House, and transformed it into a national model. He mentored great lawyers. He was ahead of the curve on civil rights, environmental enforcement, and consumer protection.
In 1965, he marched through Roxbury with Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, he walked out as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. When Elaine Noble, the first openly gay legislator in Massachusetts, was targeted by menacing homophobes, Frank, as attorney general, went to comfort her and assigned a security detail.
It is ironic his 1964 decision, as lieutenant governor, to challenge sitting governor Endicott Peabody was viewed by Democratic leaders as the height of disloyalty. Because throughout his life, Frank Bellotti personified loyalty.
When he left public service and launched a new career as a private sector lawyer, he insisted on taking his two longtime administrative assistants along. Mary Allen began working for Frank in 1958. Diane Cunio started as a summer intern in 1963. They still work for Frank, who still works for Arbella Insurance, which he cofounded. He became a titan in insurance law.
“Dad took pay cuts to keep them with him,” Michael Bellotti, the Norfolk County treasurer, said of his father.
When I spoke to Frank Bellotti on Monday, he didn’t want to jinx Wednesday’s birthday gathering.
“I hope I make it,” he said, laughing.
As for his longevity, there’s the routine that includes rising at 4:30 a.m, the black coffee, the exercise regime.
“And wine,” he added, “always the red.”
They were married for 73 years, and, in losing Maggie, Frank Bellotti lost a piece of himself.
But he is a survivor. Always has been.
And on Wednesday, Frank Bellotti’s family and friends will gather at the courthouse in Quincy named for Francis X. Bellotti to celebrate an extraordinary life that stretches across a century, through wars, real and political and legal. They will celebrate a man’s love for the law, his family, his friends, and for the gift that is life itself.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.