From his early days as a State House reporter, through an influential tenure at the helm of The Boston Phoenix in the 1980s, Richard Gaines covered Massachusetts politics with energy and purpose.
In the latter stages of his career, when he wrote about the fishing industry for his hometown paper, his commitment to “fighting the good fight” never wavered, those who knew him recalled Monday.
“He was a classic old-school reporter,” said Ray Lamont, editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, where Mr. Gaines had worked since 2002. “His persistence was incredible. He absolutely pressed and pressed to get the truth.”
Mr. Gaines, an award-winning journalist who covered the region for more than four decades, was found dead Sunday in the swimming pool at his Gloucester home, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He was 69.
On Monday, colleagues past and present recalled Mr. Gaines as a quintessential newsman skilled at synthesizing complex issues and conveying them clearly.
Mr. Gaines was a political writer for United Press International, in the 1960s and 1970s, then gained prominence during his time at The Boston Phoenix, where he was the editor from 1979 to 1989.
“Both as a reporter and an editor, Richard really made the Phoenix a player in State House politics,” said Peter Kadzis, a former editor of the now-defunct alternative weekly. “He raised the profile of the paper considerably.”
Kadzis and other colleagues said Mr. Gaines was among the state’s most aggressive and well-sourced political reporters, a tireless worker whose attention to the inner workings of state government helped bring controversy to light.
“There was nothing too obscure on Beacon Hill for his political imagination,” Kadzis said. “He was very good at working the phones and very good at making connections. He cast a pretty wide net.”
Mr. Gaines, who coauthored a biography of Michael S. Dukakis, later became a political consultant, and wrote a political column for a chain of community newspapers.
In 1999, Mr. Gaines and his wife, Nancy, moved to Gloucester, where Mr. Gaines had spent summers growing up. Mr. Gaines had always loved the seaside community, his wife said, and felt as if his life had come full circle.
“They were the happiest years of his life,” Nancy Gaines said. “He got a chance to start his life over again.”
Eager to renew his journalism career, he began writing for the Gloucester Daily Times covering city politics. Five years ago, Lamont asked if he was interested in covering the commercial fishing industry, and Mr. Gaines jumped at the chance. An avid fisherman, Mr. Gaines related to the challenges fishermen faced in earning a living, he said.
“He was really telling their story,” he said. “Richard always felt the fishermen themselves didn’t have a voice.”
Mr. Gaines reported extensively on government regulation of the fishing industry, which fishermen have criticized as excessive and unwarranted. Two years ago, after an investigation by the US Department of Commerce’s inspector general, the federal government returned $650,000 in fines to a group of fishermen, acknowledging they had been assessed unfairly.
Lamont said he is not sure the investigation would have happened without Mr. Gaines’s focus on the issue.
Brian Rothschild, a marine scientist at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said Mr. Gaines had a talent for putting complex issues into simple terms and making it clear what was at stake.
“He had an acute sense of distinguishing right from wrong,” he said. “And he was able to put the wrongs in stark relief.”
Nancy Gaines said her husband could be insistent, and loudly so. But he was loving and kind, she said, and deeply devoted to his family. He was happiest at home, chopping wood or planting in the backyard.
That he died there, she said, was of some comfort.
“The last thing he saw was the blue of the sky and the green of the plants,” she said. “He died just the way he wanted to.”
Mr. Gaines leaves his son, Benjamin of Orem, Utah; his daughter, Rachel of Boston, stepsons Eric Pomerene of Holbrook and Samuel Pomerene of Dennis; and three grandchildren.
A service will be held at Greely Funeral Home in Gloucester Friday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.