QUINCY — Through his years of service, after countless trials and court cases, after campaigns both successful and sunk, Francis X. Bellotti has collected a multitude of friends.
And Sunday they gathered by the hundreds in the shadow of a mammoth American flag — political peers and prodigies, former advisers and adversaries, family and friends — to honor the former lieutenant governor and attorney general in a ceremony to dedicate the Quincy District Courthouse in his name.
“Some people leave public office and are only remembered for a very short while,” said Frank O’Brien, chairman of the Norfolk County Commissioners, Bellotti’s friend of 50 years. “But as proven here today, Frank Bellotti has been remembered, and will be remembered, for many, many years to come.”
Bellotti, 89, served as lieutenant governor between 1963 and 1965 under Governor Endicott Peabody, and as attorney general for a dozen years until 1987, with a slew of unsuccessful runs for office in between.
But those who addressed the crowd, crammed into rows of white folding chairs set up in front of the courthouse, spoke mainly of Bellotti’s transformative effect on the offices he held.
“He’s widely and appropriately credited with turning the office of the attorney general, not just in Massachusetts but throughout the country, into a serious law office,” said Ernie Corrigan, 56, a former state house reporter who covered Bellotti in the 1980s before signing on as Bellotti’s press secretary during an unsuccessful 1990 bid for governor.
David Souter, 73, the retired justice of the Supreme Court, said he was a young attorney general of New Hampshire when he first met Bellotti, and that the more visible Massachusetts official helped shape hundreds bound, like him, for fulfilling careers in the law. Speaking moments before the shroud was pulled from the metal letters spelling out Bellotti’s name, Souter suggested a single addition to the signage.
“Under the name Francis X. Bellotti, I’d pick the sentence, ‘We looked up to him, and he never let us down,’ ” Souter said.
Bellotti smiled as he took in the ceremony from a dais near the podium where speaker after speaker heaped on praise.
“Both practically and symbolically, this for me is a very great and personal honor,” Bellotti said, visibly touched by the messages of gratitude.
Some faces in the pin-striped and high-heeled crowd were old political hands who were glad to celebrate a friend. Others were more recent initiates into public life who had come to show their respect for a legend.
In the front row, side-by-side, sat state Representative Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who chairs the Joint Ways and Means Committee, and Robert A. DeLeo, speaker of the House.
Ronald Mariano, the mustachioed House majority leader and master of ceremonies, thanked Dempsey and DeLeo for helping usher through the Legislature Mariano’s bill to rename the brick courthouse, which was later attached to the state budget signed into law in July.
“Ronnie, I think this is the finest piece of legislation you’ve filed,” joked Quincy’s mayor, Thomas Koch, chuckling.
The kudos poured in from both sides of the aisle. Former governor William Weld, unable to attend while he is in Texas on business, sent a letter that Mariano read aloud.
“I am totally psyched by the wonderful occasion,” Weld wrote. “I have, as you know, followed your extraordinary career and life and children for a long time. In fact, I contributed to your legend through my strenuous efforts to unseat you in 1978. And it is not too much to say this happening warms my heart.”
The dedication of the courthouse in Bellotti’s name was a homecoming of sorts. Inside the halls and courtrooms of the brick building, the Quincy native tried his first case in 1953. Between his pursuits of political office, it would serve as his home turf.
“It’s my profession, my peers, my town, and my court. But not just any court. Quincy and the Quincy District Court have always been a part of my political and legal life. And I came back after every loss: ’64, ’66, and ’70,” he said. “I always came back to Quincy.”
Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.