In his final journey, former mayor Thomas M. Menino returned home Monday to the neighborhood he never really left in Hyde Park, where mourners crowded his childhood church for a funeral that offered an intimate glimpse of the man who led Boston’s renaissance.
Menino chose simplicity even in death, eschewing a majestic service at a cathedral for a Mass at the modest brick church where he was baptized 71 years ago. Luminaries crowded the wooden pews of Most Precious Blood Church: Vice President Joe Biden and basketball legend Bill Russell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and baseball slugger David Ortiz.
Eulogists rhapsodized about the major accomplishments in Menino’s unprecedented 20-year run as mayor. He was the champion of the underdog, the master of fixing potholes and other nagging problems of urban life, and the healer who helped soothe Boston’s racial strife and make the city more welcoming.
But after four days of public anguish since his death, the Mass offered views of Menino that most of Boston rarely saw in his five terms as mayor.
The funeral was a look inside his home on Chesterfield Road, as Mitchell B. Weiss recalled eating tripe and agreeing to serve as the mayor’s chief of staff. It was Governor Deval Patrick describing Menino’s “famous eye roll — that, ‘gimme a break!’ whenever he thought the comment or situation was ridiculous.” It was the crack in the voice of his 15-year-old granddaughter.
“We all called him Papa,” Olivia Fenton said.
His 16-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Menino, recounted that she thought he would be mayor forever unless he was carried out of office kicking and screaming. She relished her grandfather’s position.
“Every time it snowed out, I called Papa to make sure he knew school needed to be canceled,” Samantha Menino said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “He reminded me that children in Boston relied on school lunch and if they didn’t go to school, they wouldn’t have a warm place to stay.”
The day marked a distinct point in the long arc of Boston’s history as the city bade farewell to its longest-serving mayor. Menino held office for 20 years, five months, and 25 days. He left in January and died of cancer less than 10 months after walking out of City Hall.
The governor recalled asking for Menino’s support as a political neophyte with few volunteers and no money. “No,” Menino said — because he was already committed to someone else.
But then the mayor spoke to Patrick for an hour at a time when the future governor was a political nobody.
“Tom Menino, thank you for being my friend,” Patrick said, “for making time for the meek as well as the mighty, for coaching this newcomer as you have so many others, and for the exceptional example of honest public service not just as the job you did, but the man you were.”
Bill Clinton paid his respects at Faneuil Hall before Menino took his final ride home to Hyde Park. It was a crisp, sunny day, fitting for a send-off for a mayor who once joked he could control everything but the weather.
Thousands lined the city’s streets as Menino’s casket passed touchstones in his life: City Hall, where he worked for 30 years; Fenway Park, where he held season tickets; Bowdoin-Geneva, the Dorchester neighborhood he visited each Christmas Eve; and Roslindale Square, where he made good on his first campaign promise to reinvigorate the business district.
When the procession reached Most Precious Blood, the church overflowed with 700 people in the nave and 300 more in the basement. At least 10 priests crowded the altar, including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.
The audience included lawyers and community activists, business executives and police officers, social workers and religious leaders.
Mostly, it was Menino’s family. That included relatives — his wife, Angela, and siblings, children, and grandchildren — and his City Hall family. The mayor’s political organization, “Team Menino,” sprang back to life in the last few days to ensure a fitting farewell for the mayor.
In his eulogy, Weiss spoke directly to his former boss as he recounted the effort.
“Team Menino loved you and they called again and again over the last four days to say, ‘What can I do to help?’ ” Weiss said. “A machine, the outsiders called it. But how could it be? It had your big, beating heart.”
Humor leavened the pain. Weiss said he could still see Menino in his dining room, pestering his 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, for ice cream.
“I can still see her shaking her head, ‘No,’ ” Weiss said, pausing for effect.
“It’s a good thing,” he continued, “she didn’t need building permits.”
The church erupted in laughter, a welcome balm for a congregation bathed in grief. But the levity did little to mask Weiss’s grief that Menino died so soon after leaving office.
“He wasn’t supposed to be here yet,” Weiss said. “He was supposed to have more time. Not more time to relax, but more time to be in the mix of things. He always wanted to be in the mix of things.”
Menino’s successor, Martin J. Walsh, said the former mayor had “gone to fix potholes in heaven.”
Walsh recalled that when Menino took office in 1993, urban flight had decimated Boston. In his first speech as elected mayor, Menino appealed to people who were thinking of moving out of the city. Menino said their decision mattered to him personally. Menino promised, Walsh said, to dedicate his time as mayor to giving them a reason to stay.
“The truth is,” Walsh said, “he dedicated his life to giving us a reason to stay.”
In his homily, the Rev. John J. Connolly Jr. opened a window into Menino’s spiritual life. The priest held up two dog-eared prayer books that he said Menino used so frequently that pages fell out.
Connolly recalled a prediction Menino made in high school when a nun asked him what he wanted to do with his life. “I’m going to build bridges,” Menino told the nun.
“The bridges he built between and among the neighbors and neighborhoods of this city and peoples near and far are perhaps his most worthy monument,” Connolly said.
Throughout the eulogies and songs, Angela Menino remained resolute in the front pew. She had been married to Menino for 48 years. Patrick addressed her directly.
“Angela, I know your heart is broken. He told me once that his favorite thing in the world, even better than shopping, was to be home with you for dinner,” Patrick said. “It seems especially sad that he would be taken just at the point when you got his undivided attention.”
Outside the church, Dianna Valentin-Grullon dabbed tears with a blue scarf.
“There is not going to be another one like him,’’ she said. “I miss him much already. He’s a good human being.”
The casket was draped in a baby-blue City of Boston flag and hoisted out of the church by uniformed police officers, for one last trip to Fairview Cemetery.
A vocalist and keyboardist, standing outside the church where they were framed by fluttering flags, performed Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The song held special meaning for “Team Menino.”
When he became acting mayor on June 12, 1993, they held a celebratory block party on Chesterfield Road, and Menino and his wife danced to the song.
The refrain “I did it my way” reverberated through the church. A few people sang along. And more than one mourner smiled.