Brian McGrory

Kevin White’s love for Boston left room for his dog

Kathryn White looked on, apparently without too much disdain, as Adlai greeted the mayor in 1983.
globe file photo

This is a small story about a man and his dog. Actually, it’s a story about a man concealing his dog from his wife. And it gets a little more complicated because the man happened to be the mayor of Boston.

I am speaking about Kevin White and of the hundreds of sometimes comic and often poignant stories that have poured forth since his death on Friday, there has been very little said of his love of animals, specifically golden retrievers, an emotion that ran true and deep. Please forgive me for sharing just one.

White always had dogs, often in pairs, and walked them through the Public Garden and Boston Common every day. He sprawled on the floor with them, let them ride beside him in his chauffeured car, and brought them to his City Hall office.


Those who are not dog lovers will never understand what they’re missing, the serenity and simplicity of sharing life with a dog.

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But three terms into his mayoralty, White found himself without a dog.

There were reasons for this. His Beacon Hill house was filled with five growing kids. The demands of the mayoralty were increasingly unforgiving. His wife, Kathryn, didn’t want to go through the heartbreak again that comes with a dog’s inevitable death.

The mayor that built up the Boston skyline, faced down riots, and won four terms, was astute enough to understand that his authority didn’t necessarily extend to his own house.

So he hatched another plan.


That scheme involved the Parkman House, the city-owned mansion on Beacon Street, just around the corner from White’s townhouse.

White had spent more than $600,000 in public and private funds to renovate it and basically turned it into his private retreat. That whole Mayor DeLuxe moniker didn’t come out of thin air.

It was 1979 or 1980 when White acquired a blocky golden retriever puppy from a breeder in South Carolina and called him Adlai, after Adlai Stevenson.

“He always named his dogs after politicians,’’ his son, Chris, recalled yesterday.

But rather than bring Adlai home, he drove straight to the Parkman House, where the pup undoubtedly looked around at the expensive furniture, the soft carpets, the eager staff, and thought, “This will do.’’


And there Adlai lived, in semisecret, for many months to come, often with the mayor, always with the staff.

White walked him every day, brought him to his office, and shared the news with his kids, who would regularly visit him. But White never did get around to telling Kathryn.

No, she learned about it when she saw a picture of her husband and his dog in the Globe over the caption (I’m paraphrasing here), “Mayor White and his golden retriever, Adlai.’’

globe file photo

Kathryn White snapped up the phone and asked her husband: “Who is Adlai?’’ I suspect we’re missing some adjectives. Later that day, Kevin White and Adlai took a slow walk home.

“They both had their tail between their legs,’’ Chris White said yesterday, laughing as he told the story. “They were best friends, even in secret.’’

Some time later, the mayor, Chris, Chris’s sister Beth, and Adlai, were walking through Boston Common when the owner of a food cart enthusiastically offered them hot dogs.

The Whites’ taste tended higher than hot dogs, but for the sake of politics, they choked them down with feigned appreciation.

Not so with Adlai. When the vendor crouched to offer him a hotdog, he took a long sniff and turned disdainfully away.

“All the way home, my dad kept saying to him: ‘How could you? That guy’s a voter!’ ’’ Chris said. “Adlai had his head down and his ears back.’’

As Kevin White is being rightfully remembered for the many great things he accomplished in a city he loved, he should also be recalled as a man in love with his dog.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at