Martin Keogh said that when he was a boy his father Thomas left home. Keogh said he spent years harboring hard feelings for his father, who he said drank and squandered treasured moments with his son.
When he walked out, Keogh, then 13, felt relieved, he said.
“It was the best day of my life. It was the worst day of my life,” recalled Keogh, who is running for a citywide City Council seat.
He would spend much of his youth and a part of his adulthood in fits of anger. He would hang around Cleary Square in his old Hyde Park neighborhood, he said, with other young Irish-American delinquents who smoked marijuana, ditched school, and dreamed small. He was short, skinny, and “an easy target” for bigger boys, he said.
Keogh, of West Roxbury, said he regrets the choices he made then, but they helped shaped the man he is and the councilor he wants to become. He champions public safety, school drop-out prevention, and transparency in City Hall. He wants teenagers haunted by youthful transgressions to know that there is a way out.
But his quest for one of the four winning spots in the Nov. 5 election is steep. He placed fifth among the eight finalists in the preliminary election and had a little more than $2,100 cash on hand as of Oct. 17. Keogh said he is trying to get his story out to voters.
After his father left, Keogh spent his youth fighting. In high school, a teacher pulled him aside and told him to straighten up or leave. He dropped out in the 10th grade.
By the time he was in his 20s, he said, he had been arrested more than two dozen times for fights, although he was never convicted. Pressed by his mother, Keogh began to straighten up. He got his GED. He put himself through night classes at Boston College and went on to law school.
Along the way, he met Peggy Davis-Mullen, a city councilor who hired Keogh despite his arrests and named him chief of staff. Keogh said he became impassioned about public service.
But his combative attitude landed him in the pages of The Boston Herald — a 1994 brawl involving Keogh at Doyle’s Cafe.
Now at age 48, he is a family man. Three years ago, he married Pamela Corey, and they have a 2-year-old son, Nolan, and baby daughter Penelope, who was born Thursday. He has spent the past 14 years representing clients who cannot afford a lawyer.
Recently, his father became ill, and doctors said the 80-year-old would not live much longer. As he sat in a café on a recent morning, Keogh pressed a napkin against his welling eyes. “Look at me,’’ he said, trying to smile.
He said he used to feel bad for his mother, how she struggled with seven children. But now, he said, he feels sorry for his father. “He never got to see us grow up,” Keogh said.
On Oct. 17 a priest stood with Keogh and prayed by his father’s hospital bedside.
Later that day Thomas Keogh died.