Kim Odom was numb.
A fog had descended after the Thursday evening when she heard gunshots and rushed out of her house to find Steven, the youngest of her five children, lying on the sidewalk. Struck down on his way home from a basketball game, by a bullet meant for someone else, Odom’s faithful, sensitive, drum-playing 13-year-old was gone.
And so she doesn’t remember what Tom Menino said to her when he stopped by in the days after her son was murdered in October of 2007. She recalls the mayor sitting in her living room, on a dining room chair somebody had brought in for him, talking with her husband and father-in-law, but that is all.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, the mayor was here,’” she recalled. “I don’t think I really knew the depth of that.’’
The depth of Menino’s presence only came clear in the months and years that followed those first awful days. Because the mayor kept coming back, delivering on a promise he surely made in Kim Odom’s grief-filled living room — to be there for them, to give them whatever they needed.
Most mayors would have visited the Odoms that October, when the whole city reeled from the death of a sweet boy just steps from his own front door. But Menino’s strength as a mayor and a man lay not in such big gestures at critical moments, important as they were. His greatness was in the follow-through, in countless quiet acts of kindness and shows of support, offered long after most of the city had moved on. The mayor made the Odoms feel as if they belonged to him, and he to them.
Much more than the urban mechanic he was so often touted as, Tom Menino was a master of the heart.
He took Steven’s death personally. This man, who wanted to control everything that happened in his city, was utterly powerless in the face of this senseless death, and it shook him. “I as mayor have the most responsibility,” he said, speaking at Steven’s funeral, at Morningstar Baptist Church. “But everyone in this room must take responsibility…Today is the day, the beginning, to say, enough is enough.”
Kim Odom and her whole family were determined to make her son’s death count for something, to make his memory last. And Menino, though he had an entire city to run, always seemed poised to help them do it.
Kim was pained by the impromptu shrine that grew on the Dorchester sidewalk where Steven fell. Passing the teddy bears and notes and candles every day made her feel as if her son was still lying there.
“I was determined that his life did not end on that sidewalk,” she said. She wanted a memorial that spoke more to life than death. She wanted a tree. Menino ordered one, showing up on a rainy Spring day to see it planted. Year after year, he and his wife Angela returned to that tree to mark the anniversaries of Steven’s death. When Steven’s brother Brandon organized an annual basketball tournament in Steven’s memory, Menino was there to watch the games.
Sometimes Kim felt guilty, wondering if others had this direct a line to the mayor. Many did, of course. The man had met half the city personally. Still, she worried that her family might be getting more than their fair share of his attention, and she mentioned it one day, wondering if he should keep a lower profile with them.
“I don’t care who knows what I’m doing,” she recalled him telling her.
They never talked about why he was so committed to her family. They did not have that kind of relationship, and the mayor was not much prone to such introspection. Kim learned early not to talk to him about Steven in ways that would make her cry: Menino seemed uncomfortable when she was too emotional.
Looking back now, she is convinced that Menino was a blessing from God, a gift she should have embraced without hesitation, but sometimes couldn’t. The mayor wasn’t put off at all by her hesitation; he barreled right through it. When she did not go to him for help, Menino went to her.
She remembers being at the airport in Washington with her husband Ronald, arriving for a violence prevention event, when his phone rang. It was the mayor, wondering what they were planning for that year’s memorial: “What is it you need?” He called them out of the blue sometimes, to offer congregants at the Odoms’ True Vine Church tickets to the Big Apple Circus. Or to make sure they had turkeys to give away at Thanksgiving. This man with six hundred thousand constituents was chasing them down, trying to give them things.
In 2011, the mayor got wind that Brandon had graduated from UNH and the family had had a block party to celebrate. He buttonholed Brandon’s brother Tyrone, a DPW worker who happened to be in City Hall one day: The mayor said he was hurt he hadn’t been invited.
When Ron’s mother died in 2012, Menino showed up, unannounced, at State Temple church of God in Christ on Fessenden Street, for the wake. Nobody had asked him to be there.
“I think you don’t realize how much those things mean to you until you add them all up,” Kim said, crying. She worries that she did not thank Menino properly for all he did for her family, that she didn’t reach out to him after he fell ill, the way he had reached out to the Odoms.
But being able to help her family was Menino’s reward. He loved gratitude, but he lived to make things happen for people. Especially for families like the Odoms, whose loss was on his mind even in his last days in office.
“I did my job,” he told the Globe, just before he left City Hall, ticking off the tragedies to which he’d borne witness. “It goes on and on and on. Odoms. All those folks. But I just did what I was supposed to do. Not to be melodramatic, but if you’re mayor, you should be there.”
Tom Menino was there. He was always there.