The newly elected mayor of Boston had just shouted out his thanks, calling Lorrie Higgins “the love of my life and my best friend” in his victory speech.
She was right beside him onstage — as she has been for the past eight years, and is expected to be when he takes over City Hall.
“Eight years, she’s been at Thanksgiving, at Christmas,” said Martin J. Walsh’s first cousin, Joe O’Malley. “When [Marty’s father] passed away, she was the rock. She might as well be the next first lady.”
But will she be?
The question hung over the stage where Walsh stood triumphant on election night with Higgins. Walsh, 46, became the first bachelor to win the mayor’s office in more than 60 years. He lives separately from Higgins, a few blocks away in Dorchester. His campaign website described their relationship status this way: “He shares his life with his longtime partner, Lorrie Higgins, and her daughter, Lauren.”
Higgins, 40, works at the State House and waitresses at 224 Boston, a neighborhood restaurant in Dorchester. A single mother of a 21-year-old daughter, she hails from a large family that Walsh had known for years.
Described as shy and private by those who know her, Higgins was unwilling to be interviewed by the Globe Wednesday, after her moment in the spotlight on election night. Campaign senior adviser Michael Goldman said Higgins may address the media after she returns from a long-planned vacation with Walsh that begins Friday.
Another campaign spokeswoman took offense at the Globe’s efforts to interview friends and coworkers for a profile about Higgins. “Stop harassing Lorrie,” Kate Norton, spokeswoman for the campaign, demanded of the Globe. The request, she said, was coming directly from the mayor-elect. “His family is off limits,” she said.
Higgins had done several televised interviews in the run-up to the election but Norton said that those were tightly controlled by the campaign and that all requests had to go through her. Walsh’s mother also had been interviewed repeatedly and appeared with him on stage on election night.
“They’re very private people,” Norton said of Walsh’s family.
Higgins works in politics — not in the limelight, but behind the scenes, for the Legislature’s judiciary committee and State Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat. Neither O’Flaherty nor his aide returned calls about Higgins Wednesday. Another friend and former coworker also failed to call back.
Kevin Tyo, the owner and manager of 224 Boston, said Higgins keeps insisting that she’ll return to work, though he can’t imagine it. “How can the mayor’s wife or girlfriend be serving somebody a pizza?” he said.
But Higgins, he said, is “very unconventional,” and “fiercely independent,” so it’s not out of the question.
With her dry sense of humor, she’s also the reserved one in a more outgoing family, Tyo said. He has been impressed “to see her up there, completely poised, and . . . at different fund-raisers and interviewed by the media. Oh my God, Lorrie’s life has changed so much!” he said.
Walsh and Higgins only became a couple eight years ago when both were working at the State House, and Walsh asked her out. He considered it a date, he told New England Cable News in an interview before the election. She considered it a lunch.
His persistence paid off.
“I’ve seen him happy, I’ve seen him sad. I’ve never seen him this happy — with Lorrie,” said O’Malley.
“She’s just a strong, normal person,” said a friend, Mike Christopher, who previously worked for Walsh in his legislative office and now works for the administration of Governor Deval Patrick. “That’s what’s so great about him winning, they’re so normal.”
So why aren’t they married?
O’Malley and Christopher weren’t going to touch that provocative question. O’Malley noted that Walsh has been quoted saying he wouldn’t want to propose in the midst of the campaign; “She’d say it was political,” O’Malley joked.
That could make Walsh the first bachelor to hold the mayor’s office since City Council President John E. Kerrigan stepped in to fill the post in 1946. Kerrigan still lived at home with his mother in South Boston.
It remains unclear whether Higgins intends to play any role in a Walsh administration. The duties of the mayor’s spouse are largely ceremonial, appearing at parades and festivities, serving on boards and commissions, and sometimes advocating for causes they embrace. Angela Menino was a regular host of the annual Rose Garden Party, a hat-wearing fund-raiser for parks in the Back Bay Fens.
“I think she’s going to be able to manage it. Remember, she’s worked for other elected officials,” said State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a friend of Walsh’s and a fellow Dorchester Democrat. “It’s up to them to decide, whenever they decide, to get married. But she will be his first lady of Boston. I think she will play the role. She understands what she’s coming into. This is a big deal.”