Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s longest serving mayor, dies at 71
Thomas Michael Menino, who insisted a mayor doesn’t need a grand vision to lead, then went on to shepherd Boston’s economy and shape the skyline and the very identity of the city he loved through an unprecedented five consecutive terms in City Hall, died Thursday. He was 71 and was diagnosed with advanced cancer not long after leaving office at the beginning of this year.
“Visionaries don’t get things done,” he once said, crisply separating himself from politicians who gaze at distant horizons and imagine what might be. Leaving to others the lofty rhetoric of Boston as the Athens of America, he took a decidedly ground-level view of the city on a hill, earning himself a nickname for his intense focus on the nuts and bolts of everyday life: the urban mechanic.
An old-school politician whose smarts owed more to the streets than the college classroom, Mr. Menino nonetheless helped turn Boston into a hub of 21st-century innovation, recruiting high-tech companies to the sprawling South Boston waterfront one minute, then cutting the ribbon at a neighborhood burrito shop the next.
“No man possessed a greater love for our city, and his dedicated life in service to Boston and her people changed the face of the city,” said his successor, Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
“With sheer determination and unmatched work ethic,” Walsh said, Mr. Menino “put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of executing basic city services.”
“Because of his leadership,” he added, “Boston is a better place today.”
It was a few weeks into Mr. Menino’s summer tenure as acting mayor in 1993, when some pundits fancied him a temporary caretaker, that he offered a seemingly modest ambition: “I want to help people, help one individual a day. Just to make their life a little bit better.”
His landslide election that fall to a first full term inaugurated a 20-year run as mayor. Deftly managing the city’s finances, Mr. Menino guided Boston’s commercial growth through roller-coaster peaks and dips in the national economy, largely allowing the city to avoid the massive budget cuts that plagued other urban centers in the throes of the 2008-2009 downturn.
Throughout his years as mayor, development accelerated as the city added millions of square feet of new buildings. Wielding the power of his office, Mr. Menino could make development deals flourish — or shatter them just as swiftly. Known for his micromanaging, which at times drew criticism, he once intervened to personally approve the design of a Back Bay tower’s crown-like peak.
In a statement Thursday, President Obama said Mr. Menino was “bold, big-hearted, and Boston strong.”
“Tom was the embodiment of the city he loved and led for more than two decades,” Obama said. “As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Tom helped make his hometown the vibrant, welcoming, world-class place it is today. His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live.”
For constituents, Mr. Menino was the perennial mayor in their midst, a constant presence at local events. More than half of the Bostonians who responded to a 2008 Globe poll said they had met him personally. Anyone who watched the mayor stroll through neighborhoods from Bowdoin-Geneva to West Roxbury might think that figure far too low.
Mr. Menino’s health had declined in recent years, and he was hospitalized with a broken leg three days before the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Checking himself out against his doctor’s advice, he attended the first news conference and three days later pushed himself out of his wheelchair to stand at the pulpit and speak at an interfaith service. “We are one Boston,” he said that day. “No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”
A politician with a flashing temper, whose skin could be as thin as his victory margins were thick, Mr. Menino was Boston’s first mayor of Italian descent. After that first landslide in 1993, his reelection margins never dropped below 15 percentage points and were as high as 49 points. His time in office also straddled a significant demographic shift, when the number of white residents in the city fell below 50 percent, and as Boston changed, he built a vaunted Democratic political machine. A protégé of Joseph Timilty, a former city councilor and state senator, Mr. Menino landed his first government jobs with his mentor’s assistance, and knew firsthand how to use patronage.
Reaching beyond his solid base, Mr. Menino also courted disparate constituencies that other candidates ignored or paid too little heed, such as African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and conservatives in East Boston.
“If, 100 years from now, they look back at my election, I hope what they see is the beginning of a century of inclusive politics,” Mr. Menino said in January 1994 at Faneuil Hall as part of his first State of the City address. “Throughout my whole career I have tried to be an open door to people left out of the mainstream. As mayor, I intend to continue that.”
Robert E. Travaglini, a former state Senate president who served with Mr. Menino on the City Council, said that “Tommy Menino always followed his instincts and did what his heart and his head told him to do. For years, people were overlooked and underserved. He focused on those portions of the population, and he championed their causes, and they responded.”
Mr. Menino was stung as a boy by disparaging treatment from teachers dismissive of his Italian-American heritage, and in his first mayoral campaign he stressed that he would “not tolerate racism. I will never tolerate people being discriminated against.” He opposed bias of any kind, and few gestures were as potent as his decision early on to march in the city’s gay pride parade, while shunning South Boston’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade because it banned groups advocating for lesbian and gay rights. Years later, when the state began permitting same-sex marriages on May 17, 2004, Mr. Menino was waiting at City Hall to greet Julie and Hillary Goodridge, who were first in line. As lead plaintiffs, they had lent their name to the state Supreme Judicial Court case that legalized gay marriage six months earlier.
“It is hard to imagine that LGBT people and people living with HIV could have had a more devoted and rock-solid friend than Mayor Menino,” the organization Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, known as GLAD, said in a statement. “His policies and positions were all aimed at ensuring not only that LGBT people were welcome in Boston, but that they could participate fully and equally in the life of our city.”
When President Bill Clinton appointed Mayor Raymond L. Flynn ambassador to the Vatican, Mr. Menino was the City Council president. “Go out and get some new suits; you’re going to be acting mayor,” he recalled Flynn telling him when the ambassador discussions were afoot. On July 19, 1993, Mr. Menino was sitting in his council office when an aide appeared at 4:20 p.m. to say Flynn had formally resigned. The council president automatically succeeds a mayor who departs in the middle of a term.
That night, Mr. Menino and his wife, Angela, danced at a Hyde Park block party to “My Way,” a favorite tune that became a de facto theme song — played again as the Meninos walked into Faneuil Hall on March 28, 2013, when he announced he would not seek a sixth term.
“For 20 years, Boston has been lucky to have Tom Menino in the mayor’s office,” the Globe’s editorial board wrote the next day. “The city has improved in almost every respect. Menino wasn’t personally responsible for every positive development — many cities enjoyed the benefits of lower crime rates and a return to urban living — but he guided the changes with impressive political skills and finesse.”
Nearly two decades earlier, after Mr. Menino was elected Boston’s 53d mayor on Nov. 2, 1993, Clinton called with congratulations. “Thank you, Mr. President, for making the mayor ambassador,” Mr. Menino said.
Plain-spoken sentiments were a trademark of Mr. Menino, who often was famously tongue-tied and prone to malapropisms. His swallowed words may have inspired the painful “Mumbles” nickname he wished would fade, but voters didn’t seem to mind, perhaps sensing in his labored language the wisdom of a common man who had done uncommonly well.
“Like people who give great speeches are great public officials? I mean, just look at the officials who give great speeches — they haven’t done a thing in their career, but they just look good or sound good,” Mr. Menino told the Globe in July 1993. “I’d like to see what they’ve done in their careers. What’s their record? Who have they helped?”
While serving as acting mayor, he noted that a neighborhood newspaper headline had called him “Action mayor Tom Menino,” and said that if elected he would try to live up to the typo. Before facing voters that fall, he froze water rates, worked to bolster the city’s community policing effort, earmarked $1 million for housing for the elderly, and set aside $500,000 to fund summer jobs for youth, that last item a policy initiative to which he returned year after year. “It was the beginning of something big,” he later recalled.
See more photos of former Mayor Menino.
He handily defeated state Representative James T. Brett in November, ending a run of Irish-American mayors that stretched back decades. Mr. Menino received 64.4 percent of the vote to Brett’s 35.6 percent, one of Boston’s largest mayoral victories in the latter part of the 20th century. Though hard fought, the campaign was largely amicable, and after it was over, the candidates preserved a strong relationship.
As he easily was reelected four times, Mr. Menino kept up a punishing pace, rising early to crisscross the city. Kevin H. White, the four-term mayor who preceded Flynn, pioneered little city halls in outer neighborhoods. At times, Mr. Menino seemed to embody them. White and Flynn both yearned for the national stature of higher offices. For Mr. Menino, being mayor was a calling of the highest order.
On that November 1993 morning after he was first elected, the difference from the day before was apparent. “When you’re acting mayor, some people return your phone calls,” Mr. Menino said. “When you’re mayor, everyone returns your phone calls.”
And everyone around him quickly learned that no cog in the vast machinery of city government was too small to escape his attention. En route to the office each day he called subordinates to report on what needed fixing or sprucing up: a pothole here, a broken street light there, an abandoned car that needed towing, a neighborhood park in need of mowing. Except for his ever-present finely tailored suits, Mr. Menino was more workhorse than showhorse, earning his “urban mechanic” nickname neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street.
“I didn’t learn anything sitting in this room,” Mr. Menino told the Globe in July 2013, in his fifth-floor City Hall office. “I’d rather be out there, talking to the people. This job, my legacy, is about the people.”
For two decades, until his final December in office, Mr. Menino spent Christmas Eve touring the streets of the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood, initially on foot and later by SUV when his health declined. “I’ll never say goodbye,” he said last December as he met once more with people, pastors, and business owners in a neighborhood that has seen more than its share of violence, gangs, and drugs. “I’ll be back here next year, the year after, and the year after. Not as mayor, but as a person who cares about what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said Thursday that it was “a blessing for me to have known Tom and Angela since the time I arrived in Boston and to share in their faith and their good works. They always held providing support and assistance for people in need as a priority.”
Some criticized Mr. Menino’s unstinting devotion to minutiae, saying it diverted him from larger issues. In 1996, for example, he said voters should “judge me harshly” if he failed to improve the education system. Graduation rates remained comparatively flat through much of his tenure, only rising in recent years, and city schools also experienced persistent racial achievement gaps. Still, he appointed two longstanding Boston public schools superintendents, providing much needed stability for a system that was shaken by the busing crisis and an extended period of short-term superintendents. Beginning in 1995, Thomas Payzant served nearly 11 years. Carol Johnson was in the job six years until retiring last year.
No stranger to the academic challenges children face, Mr. Menino was a C student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Jamaica Plain and resisted his father’s insistence that he pursue higher education. “When I’d get after him to go to college, he’d say, ‘Truman never went to college,’ ” Mr. Menino’s father, Carl, who died in 1989, said in a 1983 WGBH-TV documentary, adding: “He told me that a thousand times.”
Only after being elected to the City Council in 1983 did Mr. Menino take to heart a mentor’s advice that he needed a college education if he wanted to advance. He graduated at 45, through a program that gave him a chunk of credits for serving as a city councilor. By that measure, when a bachelor’s degree at last arrived, he essentially had majored in being Tom Menino.
Though not averse to being addressed as “mayor,” he remained a man of his neighborhood, often leaving phone messages identifying himself simply as Tom or Tommy.
In his memoir “Mayor for a New America,” written with Jack Beatty and released Oct. 14, he wrote about his beginnings in Hyde Park, the southernmost section of Boston that most politicians considered “the sticks.”
Born Dec. 27, 1942, he was the oldest of three children. Mr. Menino’s father was part of the machinists union and worked 35 years at a Westinghouse plant, where he helped the future mayor land a summer job during high school. “By then my dad was a foreman,” Mr. Menino wrote. “I noticed how he heard the men out. It was his way of showing respect. That was my first lesson in politics.”
Mr. Menino’s mother, Susan, “was a Mother Teresa to new immigrants in Hyde Park,” he wrote. The Meninos lived on the first floor of a two-family house on Hyde Park Avenue and his paternal grandparents, immigrants from a village in southern Italy, lived upstairs.
The family owned an apartment building next door, where new immigrants cycled through every few years until they saved enough for a place of their own. Fluent in Italian, Mr. Menino’s mother helped them with bills, schools, and job applications, “every stage of their journey to America.”
“I was 21 when she died with my 6-year-old brother, David, in her arms,” he wrote, adding that his father’s grief “was total, like his love.” He wrote that his mother “was the strongest influence on my life,” inspiring his compassion for Boston’s newcomers and those struggling to succeed.
Mr. Menino noted in his memoir that he faced his own struggles at school, where “because my teeth and lips would not cooperate, I talked out of the side of my mouth, mumbling decades before I was called ‘Mumbles.’ ”
Teachers tended to ignore those not at the top of the class. That indifference stayed with him, and once he was mayor, Mr. Menino insisted on handing out awards to more than just the students who fared best on tests, though he conceded that his early parochial school education had at least one advantage. “I had 12 years of nuns who used to use their sticks on me,” he told the Globe in 1993. “If they did that today, you’d have more court cases, but it was good discipline.”
In his memoir, Mr. Menino wrote that Harry Truman was his “political hero. I hung his portrait behind my desk at City Hall. A plain-spoken man of the people.” Through David McCullough’s biography, a favorite book of the mayor’s, he learned that the former president “was also a scholar of Greek and Roman history. The public library was his college.”
The public itself was Mr. Menino’s university as he climbed from his Hyde Park neighborhood to City Hall through a series of jobs, meeting little success until he found a home, and key mentors, in politics. He cleaned furnaces in a factory, took hot dog orders at Simco’s on the Bridge in Mattapan from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m., and then was hired as an insurance salesman for Metropolitan Life, a job for which, by his own account, he was supremely unsuited, except perhaps for the always presentable suits he wore.
Mr. Menino wrote that he took his sartorial cues from his father, who on Sundays “wore only the best, down to his silk shorts and cashmere socks.” The mayor was a regular at Filene’s Basement, shopping there three or four times a week until the store closed. He once estimated that he owned about 400 ties, 75 to 80 shirts, numerous suits, and several blazers. “I need every piece,” he said with a smile.
Working for Metropolitan Life, meanwhile, meant he had a respectable job when he met Angela Faletra as they played tennis on adjoining courts in Hyde Park one day and her errant shots kept angling his way. Their first date was that night. “She was pretty, bright, funny, and compassionate,” he wrote. “A Roslindale girl, but you can’t have everything. I’ve often been asked if becoming acting mayor of Boston wasn’t the luckiest break of my life. No, I reply.”
They married in 1966, a few years after that first meeting. Fiercely devoted to the man she called “my Tommy,” Angela Menino kept working throughout their marriage, long after their two children, Susan and Thomas Jr., were grown and she could have set aside her accounting job at John Hancock Financial Services. “Work gives me my own identity,” she told the Globe in 2004. “Angie is the real thing,” Mr. Menino added in the same interview. “She doesn’t have to work. She could have a driver, and somebody to clean the house. But she’ll never give it up.”
As his emissary of sorts, she served on several boards while advocating for children and the elderly, women, and the homeless, and she helped keep Mr. Menino grounded in who he was and where he was from. “She watches out to make sure Tom Menino stays Tom Menino,” David A. Passafaro, the mayor’s former chief of staff, told the Globe in 2005.
Not long before Angela met Mr. Menino, he found himself drawn to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. “In 1960 you couldn’t live in Massachusetts and be Catholic and ignore politics,” he wrote in his memoir. Mr. Menino skipped a night school class to attend Kennedy’s election eve speech at Faneuil Hall, and he joined the adoring crowds chasing JFK’s limousine along cobblestone streets, “waving my arms like a madman while running for all I was worth.”
“Tom Menino was an extraordinary leader and a wonderful friend,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “He and my husband Ted had a great relationship, built on mutual respect, trust, and love of the city of Boston.”
In the early 1960s, Mr. Menino met Joseph Timilty, who wanted to be a city councilor. Mr. Menino worked to help elect Timilty, who repaid the favor when the future mayor lost his job at Metropolitan Life while trying to organize a union. “He got me ‘on’ at the Boston Redevelopment Authority,” Mr. Menino wrote.
Meanwhile, Mr. Menino remained a key part of the campaign apparatus as Timilty moved from the City Council to the state Senate, and then took on Kevin White in the mayoral contests of 1971, ’75, and ’79, “I was Joe’s ‘body man,’ ” Mr. Menino recalled. “I saw him the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.”
The political training proved invaluable as Mr. Menino found he had a gift for sweating the behind-the-scenes details of planning and executing campaign events, which he put to use while helping run Pennsylvania field operations for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaigns in 1976 and ’80. “I was paid peanuts for my work,” he wrote of those early years. “I would have paid to do it.” As a Timilty operative, Mr. Menino also learned about the perils of patronage when “Kevin White fired me from the BRA.” Timilty intervened again. Using his influence as a state senator, he “got me a job on one of his committees,” Mr. Menino wrote.
Years later, when Mr. Menino was mayor, Timilty was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and sentenced to four months in federal prison. “The contrast in our fortunes was painful to me,” Mr. Menino wrote.
By becoming mayor, the protégé achieved what his mentor could never accomplish in the White era. Mr. Menino’s first step was the City Council, a goal that seemed implausible. “I was the shyest person in the neighborhood,” he told the Globe in 1993, just after becoming acting mayor. “I was very, very shy. When I decided to run for office people in the neighborhood couldn’t believe it.” He won that first election after the City Council expanded from all at-large seats to a combination of at-large and district seats. Announcing his candidacy while standing in the backyard of his childhood home on Hyde Park Avenue, he ran in the district covering Hyde Park and slices of other neighborhoods. Angela at his side, he campaigned “ ‘the Menino way,’ one door, one vote at a time,” and won handily.
On the City Council, he sought the chairmanship of the newly formed Ways and Means Committee and established a reputation as a workhorse, intimate with the details and reach of the powerful panel that controlled the city’s budget. Rarely did Mr. Menino consider stepping away from city politics. In 1986, he flirted with a run for Suffolk County sheriff, but decided against it, and in 1992, he announced a bid for the soon-to-be vacant 11th Congressional District seat, only to see it evaporate in redistricting.
During those years he also picked up a new, valuable mentor in Gerard Doherty, who had chaired the Democratic State Committee and was a longtime Kennedy campaign operative. It was Doherty who told Mr. Menino he needed a college degree if he wanted to be mayor, so he enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Boston at the same time his daughter, Susan, was at the Amherst campus.
Mr. Menino reached a key stepping-stone to the mayor’s office when he wove together a coalition of moderate and conservative councilors to be elected City Council president at the beginning of 1993, defeating Maura Hennigan in a 7-6 vote on the first ballot. That set the stage for his ascension to acting mayor when Flynn left to be ambassador to the Vatican. “I had to be mayor to be elected mayor,” Mr. Menino wrote. “That was my strategy.”
Once elected, he proceeded to shape the look and feel of Boston as perhaps no other mayor had in the past. His intimacy with the city ranged from obscure budget details to the placement of fire hydrants, so developers knew the success of high-profile proposals for highly visible projects often hinged on pleasing Mr. Menino.
For example, when the late Edward Linde was chief executive of Boston Properties Inc., he wanted to construct a 36-story building next to the Prudential Tower. “Guys, flat roofs don’t make it,” Mr. Menino said as he looked at the architectural drawings. Linde and his architect tried again, bringing a set of miniature proposed roofs to City Hall and setting each one atop the model of their planned tower. Linde later recalled the mayor’s reaction to one that looked like a crown: “He said, ‘I think this one would be great.’ ” Today, 111 Huntington Ave. is among the most recognizable buildings in the city’s skyline.
At different points, Mr. Menino found himself at odds with the city’s public-sector unions, with contact negotiations sometimes becoming rancorous, deeply personal affairs. Noting that one Fire Department captain had published a letter to the editor in the Globe with the phrase “we die for you,” an exasperated Mr. Menino wrote in his memoir: “Give me a break! Try negotiating with a union whose members die for you.”
Revitalizing South Boston’s seaport turned a faded industrial waterfront into a booming district with an art museum and high-end restaurants, a sprawling venture that took most of his tenure to realize. Mr. Menino also helped guide significant projects to outlying areas, including a $500 million New Balance development in Brighton and a $115 million municipal services building in Roxbury’s Dudley Square.
Chief executives of major cities often want to leave behind a defining development. For Kevin White, it was Quincy Market. Mr. Menino envisioned a 1,000-foot skyscraper in the Financial District, which he said would be “a stunning statement of our belief in Boston’s bright future.” It was never built.
Other challenges also proved vexing. Race remained a measure for success, or lack thereof, in the city’s schools. And while graduation rates increased incrementally, that was enough to draw praise. “This is a school system that has improved substantially,” Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said in 2013. “That’s not to say we solved all the problems by any means. There’s still a lot to be done with the achievement gaps among racial groups.”
Mr. Menino was more successful presiding over what became known as the Boston Miracle. In his early years as mayor, police stepped up outreach to neighborhood groups and church leaders to try to quell gang violence. Homicides plummeted from 98 in 1993, when Mr. Menino became acting mayor, to 31 in 1999. Violent crime rose again, but not to the levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and by the end of his tenure the number of homicides dropped four consecutive years, to 40 in 2013. Several years ago, he also joined with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York to cochair Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit coalition that pushed for more gun controls.
“Whether it was tackling illegal guns or reviving neighborhoods, Tom was never afraid to take on tough issues,” Bloomberg said Thursday. “Tom was at his best when his city needed him most. In the aftermath of the Marathon bombing last year, he was steady as always, showing the same determined leadership that made his career in public service one of Boston’s most important and most influential.”
As years passed, Mr. Menino consolidated power, becoming a strong political boss not to be crossed during his second decade in office. Still, programs that spoke to core beliefs forged early in his leadership remained in place. Finding summer work for youth — the initiative that helped lift his first mayoral bid — became an annual preoccupation as he tripled the number of participating private employers to 300. “He was obsessed with summer jobs with kids, because he saw that as a positive for the kids,” said Kevin Phelan, a commercial real estate executive and an ally of the mayor. “He’d lean on anybody and everybody that he knew to hire a kid or two or five or 25 for the summer. Every time you go to a meeting or a public event from January to May, it’s, ‘Well we’re up to 7,000 summer jobs. Last year we did 10,000. How’re we going to get another 3,000?’ ”
Mr. Menino, who lived in Hyde Park all his life, for many years in the Readville section, leaves his wife, Angela; his daughter, Susan Menino Fenton of Dorchester; his son, Thomas Jr. of Hyde Park; his brother, David of Hyde Park; his sister, Carolyn Phipps of Quincy; and six grandchildren.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday, the mayor will lie in state at Faneuil Hall. On Monday,a private funeral Mass will be said at noon in Most Precious Blood Church in Hyde Park, where Mr. Menino was baptized. More details about the service and the procession from Faneuil Hall to the church will be announced.
“Tom Menino and I shared more than the title of being Mayor of Boston,” said his predecessor, Raymond Flynn. “Yes, we sometime disagreed about issues, but we never had a difference of opinion about our respect for each other and our pride in making Boston a great city.”
Flynn added that “the day I left City Hall to become US ambassador to the Vatican, I said, ‘The City is in good hands.’ Today, Tom Menino is in good hands.”
Last year, Harvard University awarded Mr. Menino an honorary doctorate.
“I’m going to start wearing a bow tie pretty soon,” he joked to The New York Times.
“He was a strong and true friend of education, and he knew how much the pursuit of education and research means not only to Boston but to the larger world,” said Drew Faust, Harvard’s president. “All of us can learn from his powerful and humane example.”
In his memoir, Mr. Menino settled a few scores, and he also listed many of his best-known verbal gaffes, as if to defuse for the ages the running side narrative of his three decades in public office, reminding readers that he began his first mayoral speech in 1994 with the declaration: “I’m not a fancy talker.”
More important to Mr. Menino were lists like the one detailing how he dealt with gender inequity at City Hall. Along with appointing the first women as mayor’s chief of staff and campaign manager, “I appointed Boston’s first woman police commissioner, first woman corporation counsel, first woman director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority,” he wrote. City government gave its employees four hours off annually for cancer screening, and “when my public health commissioner told me how many African-American women suffered from breast cancer, we fitted out a van to conduct mammograms and parked it in front of beauty parlors in minority neighborhoods. Thousands of women gained years of life from preventative care.”
His own health suffered sporadically through the years. “I’d had a bout with a rare cancer,” he wrote in his memoir, adding a list of other maladies that included Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, an infected elbow, a torn tendon in his right knee, and a blood clot. Not even a broken leg could keep him in his wheelchair, however, when it was time to pay tribute at the interfaith service to those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings.
“If you watched the service, you saw the struggle I had,” he wrote about the effort it took to stand at the pulpit. His blunt description of his frailty was characteristically unsparing. Mr. Menino recalled tucking his elbows back as his son tipped the wheelchair forward. “Biting my lower lip against a twinge of pain, grabbing the lectern for balance, I stood up. The enclosed pulpit hid the line connecting my catheter to the bag on my wheelchair.”
Once on his feet, in clear pain and in an international spotlight as he delivered the most closely watched speech of his career, Mr. Menino exhibited the resilience he praised in the city he loved.
“This is Boston,” the mayor said, “a city with the courage, compassion, and strength that knows no bounds.”