Across Boston, from the modest neighborhood where he lived to the City Hall where he governed, people on Thursday fondly remembered former five-term Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino, who died this morning of cancer at the age of 71.
Judy Pais, who has lived across from the Meninos in the Hyde Park neighborhood since the late 1970s, recalled the mayor getting up early in snowstorms to clear the sidewalks up and down Chesterfield Street with his snowblower.
“What other mayor gets out there with a snowblower? You know, he was a regular guy. He really, really was,” she said.
Pais said the Meninos were ideal neighbors, caring and down to earth. “I’ll never forget what they did for us when my father died. They sent us two cooked turkeys with all the fixings. They were away at the time, and they came back for his funeral. I thought that was special, and I’ll never forget it.”
Speaking to reporters on the front steps of her home — like Menino’s a modest, neatly maintained single-family with faux-stone siding — Pais’s voice faltered.
“Oh, my heart just broke. I had been praying that he would have, you know, some real quality time with his family, which he deserved. And I’m so sad that he didn’t get to have that. His last days were in the hospital and not at home with his family, but I know his family was with him.”
“I don’t know what else to say,” she said, “except I’m gonna miss the guy.”
Marion Barone, a retired hair stylist who lives two blocks away, said Menino never passed by — whether on foot, on his bicycle, or in a car — without waving and calling out hello.
“In the summer, I’d bring him down tomatoes from the garden, and he’d call me up and go, ‘Oh, they were delicious!’ He always acknowledged it. He was not just the mayor — he was a neighbor and a friend.”
In East Boston, one of the most diverse and fast-changing neighborhoods in the city, news of Menino’s death streamed from the radio and televisions at bakeries and restaurants. People winced when they first heard the news, as if they’d been punched.
At Alvaro Laundrymat on Summer Street, owner Alvaro Garcia folded sweatpants as Menino’s picture flashed on the television near the cash register. Garcia, an immigrant from Colombia, said Menino’s departure as mayor left the neighborhood in tears.
“God bless him,” Garcia, 54, said. “The good ones don’t last.”
Menino did not speak Spanish — which would have been an asset in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing from mostly Italian to mostly Latino — but Garcia said that did not matter.
“They loved him so much,” Garcia said in Spanish. “Sometimes you don’t have to speak another language for people to love you. People could perceive it in his actions, his works. He made himself understood.”
Those works were visible all over East Boston Thursday. Children did homework in the Mayor Thomas M. Menino Community Room at a new branch of the public library. Businesses bustled in Maverick and Day squares.
And at LoPresti Park on the waterfront, seventh-graders from the Mario Umana Academy played on a new soccer field on a perfect fall day. Sunshine glistened on the harbor as boats glided by and workers ate lunch on new park benches.
Behind them, excavators cleared dirt for new basketball courts. Renovating Lo Presti Park was one of the last actions Menino announced as mayor last year. The waterfront park has stunning views of Boston Harbor and the Zakim Bridge.
“This could have been a four-star restaurant, a successful bar. It could’ve been another high-rise tower,” said Michael Crowley, a geography teacher at the Umana, a Boston public school. “But it’s a park. It’s open. Kids can come here. I think this is a testament to what the mayor was for the city.”
At Santarpio’s Pizza, the staff was in mourning. Menino often came by for lunch with co-workers or his wife and his grandchildren. He loved the barbecue and the pizza, and often took a pizza to go for his son Tommy, a police officer. Often, his waiter was Tony Costanza, 63, a server for more than 30 years.
Costanza said Menino always graciously posed for photos with constituents. Other people made Menino happy, Costanza said. even if they interrupted his lunch. Usually, Menino showed up smiling, but if something was troubling the mayor, “you could read it in his face.”
In those moments, Costanza said he would greet Menino and then slip away to change the music on the sound system.
“If you played Frank Sinatra songs, he would smile from ear to ear,” Costanza said.
At City Hall, workers’ faces were downcast and their eyes welled with tears. Workers remembered a mayor who would acknowledge them, regardless of their station in life.
Rocco Addessa, who has worked the dusty hallways, cleaning and sweeping up for the past two decades, teared up when he recalled Menino.
“I lost my old boss, my ex-mayor,” he said, stifling tears.
Menino was a good boss, Addessa said, one who never forgot people, no matter who they were.
When Addessa cleaned the horseshoe driveway outside City Hall, he’d often see Menino.
“He would joke with me,” said Addessa, who said he campaigned for Menino in his East Boston neighborhood. “He would whack me over the head with his cane, but he was just joking around. He was always joking with me.”
In Boston’s bustling downtown, people expressed sadness over a mayor they felt they knew somehow, even if they had never met him.
“He was a man of the people,” said Laura Cawley, 53. “He wasn’t the guy in the corner office with an ego that was too big to meet the average person.”
Cawley and others said they were sad for his family, and that it was heartbreaking he died so soon after leaving office.
“I thought he had longer, a few months with his family,” said one Winchester woman. “It’s very sad.”
Patty McKinnon of Cohasset, who has worked in Boston for a decade, said Menino would leave a lasting legacy and would be missed.
“I think he was a man who cared,” she said. “His actions spoke louder than words”
Many said the city had become a far better place to live under Menino’s tenure — a more dynamic and forward-looking place, and said they felt Menino always had the city’s best interests at heart
“He was a good man” said Stephen McCloud, 53. “He did a lot for the city”
Menino was criticized over the years and derided as “Mumbles” but never seemed bitter about it, McCloud said
“Even when he got ripped, he took it in stride,” he said.
Back on Menino’s street in Hyde Park, at about 2:20 p.m., the mayor’s wife, Angela, returned to the home she had shared for decades with her husband. As she and a small group emerged from a silver unmarked Ford Taurus police car, Angela Menino held the Louisville slugger cane that the former mayor had relied on for the past yea
Later in the afternoon, Bob Rand rode down to Menino’s house from two blocks away on his electric scooter, his 6-year-old foster daughter Riley in his lap.
Rand, who used to feed Menino French toast as owner of the nearby Dedham Diner, called Menino “a grandfather to all the kids in the neighborhood,” doling out ice cream at summer block parties and full-sized candy bars on Halloween.
When they reached the Menino home, Kiley climbed down, and Rand steadied himself with his cane. The little girl walked to the front steps, where she knelt before the Meninos’s yet-to-be-carved pumpkin, crossed herself, and said a quiet prayer.
Back on the scooter, Rand kissed the top of the girl’s head tenderly, and they quietly rode back up Chesterfield.