Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in The Boston Globe on Saturday, December 31, 1983.
He left without regret after a day filled with humor, enjoyment, exhilaration, and the task he says he is least adept at - saying goodbye.
Kevin Hagan White, who for 16 years shaped the destiny of a city, yesterday spent his last working day as mayor of Boston. The ending to the legacy of his years was at last played out during a day filled with the kind of draining emotion that marks any significant passing.
His closest aides have packed their belongings and given farewell speeches to their staffs. Yesterday, Boston City Hall seemed touched by both uncertainty and promise. But White said he did not feel “an ounce of sorrow” for himself or those whose futures have been linked to his own.
In the afternoon, White met with his department heads and closest aides to tell them they had worked together through the “best of times.” After that, he spent more than an hour with his successor, Mayor-elect Raymond L. Flynn, walking around Castle Island in South Boston and then praying together at the altar at the Gate of Heaven Church, also in South Boston.
Neither man wanted to discuss the details of their meeting. White called it “personal and easy.” Flynn said that for the first time he felt a closeness to White, with whom he has shared neither political nor philosophical brotherhood. “It was a tremendously moving kind of experience to be part of history being made,” said Flynn.
After his meeting with Flynn, in an office stripped of personal possessions and with workmen pulling paintings on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts off the outer office walls, White said he wanted to be remembered for one thing: “I left the city a little better than I found it.”
How much better, he said, “I’ll let the people decide and argue over.”
White said that not once since he surprised Boston residents and his own loyalists with his decision on May 26 not to run again has he regretted that choice. It is time to leave, he said.
But as he leaves office, White still left open the possibility of a return to politics. Government and politics, he said, “have been my life for so long . . . this isn’t the time to rule anything in or out.”
White said he knows his career plans for the future, but is not willing to reveal them yet. He and his wife will take a two-week sailing vacation around the Virgin Islands, he said. Afterward, he will return to discuss his plans with contacts in Washington, D.C., and New York. Then, he said, “I am coming home.”
He will not work in a “major law firm or go into business,” he said, but indicated he would do some teaching.
On his last day in office, he said he received telephone calls from John Lindsay, former mayor of New York City; John Silber, president of Boston University; Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith; John Gould, senior vice president of the Shawmut Bank and executive secretary to the Coordinating Committee, known as The Vault; and the mayor of Barcelona, Spain, whom White visited last month.
But to White, who built a government on the strength of the loyalties of the people who served him, his farewell to his aides was the emotional highlight of his day.
White met with his department heads in the Eagle Room adjoining his office in a session participants described as intensely personal but leavened by humor.
Except for his wife, Kathryn, he did not single out anyone for special praise or thanks. He told the gathering that although this was an ending, it was not a time for sorrow, for “We have had the best of times.”
He said his farewell and thanks were for everyone who served in his administration, not just the intimates invited to yesterday’s meeting.
For their part, White’s department heads said they feel a bond of history and pride in the accomplishments of the White administration.
Deputy Mayor Robert J. Ryan, who is also director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said he feels “satisfied and gratified . . . to have served the people of Boston,” during the White years.
City Budget Director Dennis J. Morgan, who has worked for White for nine years, said he will always be grateful to White for giving him “the opportunity . . . as a very young man to hold a great deal of responsibility,” and will cherish the personal friendship that grew between them.
Said Deputy Mayor Micho Spring, who has been with White for seven years: “It’s very hard to sit back and say what were the highlights . . . “For me it was all tremendously exciting . . . I cannot imagine working for somebody who could have provided me with a similar opportunity. We are all so proud of the impact of the Kevin White years.”
In addition to giving him a 15-volume set of first-edition books written by Lord MacCauley, a 19th-century British historian, the department heads contributed to buy White the mahogany desk that graced the Eagle Room.
Attached to the desk will be a small brass plaque that reads:
”To our mayor, Kevin Hagan White. From your department heads and staff, with deep affection, loyalty and gratitude for the opportunity you gave us to proudly serve the people of Boston.”