Patricia Papa was setting up for Thursday’s big event at Faneuil Hall with the busy, agitated air of someone who needed a distraction. Boston’s film director and special events coordinator has worked for the city for three decades, under three mayors. Nothing had hit her like the impending departure of Mayor Thomas M. Menino. He’s like family, she said.
“It hurts to see him not be mayor anymore,” said Papa, director of the city’s film bureau and special events liaison. “He’s the face of the city. He always will be.”
Hours earlier, she had left Menino’s office looking distraught — one of a parade of city employees who streamed through the mayor’s office to pay their respects to Menino in what started to seem like a living wake. Some aides left wiping their eyes or visibly upset. Others talked up the good times, saying he was going out on a high note. All credited the work ethic of a public servant who had worked doggedly for constituents for 20 years and who worked them just as hard.
A famously tough and demanding boss who drilled down on the small problems of neighborhoods and beat back any perceived slights to his authority, Menino surely wasn’t easy. But with his famous devotion to the city and the fierce loyalty he commanded from his aides, the prospect of him leaving City Hall left many dumbstruck.
“The way that he approaches the job, it’s all about the people in the communities and helping those people. You don’t mind that he’s tough on you,” said Sean Regan, 30, neighborhood coordinator for South Boston in the Department of Neighborhood Services. “I believe in him . . . That makes it all worth it when you’re able to actually help people.”
While some employees put a bright face on the news — it was a “happy day,” according to Menino spokesman Dot Joyce — many described Thursday as the end of an era. Department heads went into Menino’s office to make their goodbyes. City councilors gathered for an audience with the mayor, which City Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley described as “a moment of reverence.”
Some city aides’ reflections made it clear that Menino had made a mark not only on the city but on their individual lives. Thomas J. Tinlin was a security guard in City Hall when Menino was elected, and within 48 hours, was getting hounded about what he wanted to do next. The mayor urged him to get his bachelor’s degree, his master’s, and promoted him to jobs until he was transportation commissioner.
“Professionally and personally, all good things that are in my life today — and I’m talking marriage, career, children — are because Mayor Menino saw in me the things I couldn’t yet see in myself,” said Tinlin. “He kicked me in the butt when I couldn’t see life beyond the corners of South Boston.”
The outpouring of affection for the mayor culminated in a warm scene inside Faneuil Hall, where Menino announced he would not be running for a sixth term. The hall was packed with his current and former aides, some of whom have gone on to win elective office themselves. “He’s given us this family, this amazing family,” said Menino’s former spokeswoman, Carole Brennan, who turned up along with three former chiefs of staff and numerous other high-level aides from the past.
And the sheer longevity of his time in City Hall was bewildering to some.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development. “Certainly people are sad, but this is a decision that he wants. He’s loved inside and out. We really felt it today.”
Martha Pierce, the mayor’s education adviser, has been working with him for 35 years, since she was 26 years old. Their work together spanned marriages, births, deaths, grandchildren. “It’s been a wonderful ride,” she said.
“I have loved every single minute of it. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t woken up excited to come to work. It’s hard to match his energy, his passion, his commitment,” she said. “It’s a 24-7 job for him. Despite his work ethic, he’s always very committed to our individual families. He’s always saying family comes first.”
Accordingly, many aides said they hoped the mayor would enjoy some hard-earned down time with his family after years of working doggedly for constituents.
“For once,” said Boston Redevelopment Authority spokeswoman Susan Elsbree, “he put himself before the city.”Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.