HUDSON — In his family church, in the small town where he lived his entire life, Paul Cellucci, former Massachusetts governor, was remembered Friday as a devoted public servant whose work “to make the world a better place” would leave a lasting legacy.
More than 500 mourners filled Saint Michael Parish to pay their respects to Cellucci, who died June 8 after a long battle with ALS. He was 65.
In touching, lighthearted remembrances, Cellucci’s daughters recalled their father as deeply devoted to his family, a well-grounded man who handled a devastating disease with strength and grace.
“He did not let his diagnosis break him,” said Kate Cellucci. “He could have given up and shunned the public eye; instead he embraced it with courage and dignity.”
Cellucci, a Republican who was governor from 1997 to 2001 after many years serving as lieutenant governor under his close friend William Weld, devoted his final years to raising money to support ALS research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, bringing public attention to the cause.
His funeral drew many notable political figures, including Weld and Governor Deval Patrick, as well as a number of Hudson residents who had known Cellucci since his early days as a selectman.
Outside the church, a pair of Mounties from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stood in tribute to Cellucci’s years as the US ambassador to Canada.
From ambassador to governor, Cellucci held many lofty titles, Kate Cellucci said. But his rise to political prominence never changed who he was, and it was what his family called him that meant the most.
“Although his life was cut short by a horrible disease, he never stopped being the best husband, the best friend, the best dad, and the best Grampie,” she said.
In contrast to Thursday’s memorial at the State House, which focused on his political career, the funeral service was centered on the private life of a “family man of faith,” said the Rev. Ronald Calhoun, pastor at Saint Michael.
Calhoun said that Cellucci, in his final days, reminisced about his childhood, when he was an altar server at Saint Michael, and spoke about his deep love for his family. He loved being called “Grampie,” and only a week before he died he was able to hold his newborn grandchild, he said.
Cellucci’s daughter Anne Cellucci Adams shared her memories of her parents’ life together, calling it “something for the storybooks.” High school sweethearts, they spent a year apart in college. Cellucci missed Jan so much that he could not eat, and always said it was the worst year of his life.
“They were always cracking each other up and really were such a team,” Adams said. “They were the best of friends.”
Cellucci would often drive to get ice cream for the family, including Jan’s favorite, a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream. But sometimes it would mistakenly be made with vanilla, and Cellucci wouldn’t notice until he got home. Without fail, he drove back to fix the order, his daughter said.
“He wanted her to be happy and he was determined to make that happen,” Kate Cellucci said.
Even through his fight with ALS, Cellucci always worried about how it was affecting his wife. But her dedication to him “knew no bounds,” Adams said.
“The minute my dad was diagnosed with ALS, my mom literally stopped everything else in her life and never left his side,” she said.
Adams said her father was an optimistic spirit who saw the good in everything. He loved movies, and liked pretty much every one he saw. If the service was bad at a restaurant, he left a bigger tip, figuring the server was probably having a bad day.
“Everybody deserved compassion,” she said. When patients are diagnosed with ALS, they are told to get their priorities in order, Adams said. But her father’s already were.
“Nothing had changed in the way my dad was living his life, because nothing had to,” she said.
As his health declined, he savored every moment with his grandchildren, his daughters said. He became “Mission Control,” and sent the kids on superhero missions.
Cellucci will live on through his four grandchildren, Kate Cellucci said through tears.
After the funeral, mourners recalled Cellucci as a constant in town, a friendly presence who was always up for a chat.
Veronique Turner, wearing an autographed “Paul Cellucci for Governor” hat, said he was always proud that he was from Hudson. Just as Hudson was proud of him.
Globe correspondent Todd Feathers contributed to this report. Peter Schworm
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