Through decades of contract negotiations and legislative battles, Michael Mullane became known throughout the region as a ferocious protector of firefighters and their families.
A chain-smoking, often profane union leader with an impish grin, he spent much of his life working the phones at the Florian Hall headquarters in Dorchester of union Local 718. Mr. Mullane, the Third District vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, managed to fight hard at the bargaining table without burning bridges, always knowing that the next contract was looming, colleagues said.
“He had a passion for the working person. Everything for him was about making things better for firefighters. He never lost focus of that,” said Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn.
Mr. Mullane, who was a Boston firefighter for more than 40 years and served on the International Association’s executive board for more than 30 years, died Friday from complications of gall bladder surgery. He was 68 and lived in Quincy.
Fire department officials said about 5,000 firefighters and others from across the United States and Canada attended his wake Thursday afternoon at Florian Hall. Senator Edward Markey, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan were among the mourners.
“He was one of the greatest champions of our members and workers everywhere that this union and our labor movement will ever know,” Harold A. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a statement.
Mr. Mullane brought a combination of street smarts, political instincts, and deep compassion to his work and relationships, friends said.
“He growled, but he was a teddy bear at heart,” said his sister Janice of Quincy, who was a union organizer during her career at the Boston Transportation Department and took lessons from her brother on labor organizing.
“He taught me how to read a room,” said Janice, who is known as Sissy.
She added that her brother was generous, selfless, and quick to sense when families and friends needed help. “There were no strings attached,” she said. “He’d just give it and never talk about it again.”
When Mr. Mullane won a share of the winnings from a Megabucks ticket long ago, he gave away his money to help others pay off debts, his sister said. She could not confirm a story among his friends that he once paid off the mortgage of a firefighter’s widow but said he probably did and never spoke about it.
“He turned nobody away,” said Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. Kelly said Mr. Mullane was a key mentor in the ways of labor organizing and bargaining.
“He just knew if something was BS; he could smell it a mile away,” Kelly said. “He was quick to shut down anything that wasn’t good for the members.”
While representing New England firefighters with the IAFF, Mr. Kelly advocated for families of more than 50 firefighters who died in the line of duty, Kelly said. “That really motivated him to get out of bed every day and fight for those survivors,” he said.
Allan Michael Mullane grew up in Dorchester, the fifth of six children. His father, William, was a Boston police detective. His mother, the former Laurentine Waggett, worked for several years checking coats at the Statler Hotel in Boston, where she was a union activist, according to his family.
As a boy, Mr. Mullane enjoyed going to local fire stations, where two of his uncles were firefighters.
At the sound of fire alarms, he usually ran to the fire with his brother Neal to try to help. “They got the bug early. He was always a spark,” said his oldest brother William of South Boston, a retired Boston police detective who is known as Bo.
Neal Mullane also became a Boston firefighter. He died in 2014 at age 71.
After graduating from Boston Technical High School, Mr. Mullane joined the Navy. He became a firefighter following his Navy service and was assigned to Engine 21 in Uphams Corner. He never married and often came home with burns to his hands, which his mother helped dress, his sister recalled.
“He was 28 when he took over the local and never looked back,” Bo Mullane said.
Mr. Mullane’s approval was highly prized by politicians seeking the firefighters’ union endorsement. His support for John Kerry’s presidential run in 2004 preceded Kerry securing a key primary endorsement from the IAFF’s membership.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who visited with some of Mr. Mullane’s family members and friends at Florian Hall earlier this week, said in a Facebook post: “Mike Mullane was one of the good guys – a hero in every sense of the word. He spent his life running into burning buildings, and fighting for working families in Boston and all across the country … We’ll miss you Mike – your boyish smile, your big heart, and your tireless fight.”
Mr. Mullane’s family said his longtime partner and the “love of his life” was Elaine Malone of South Boston. He enjoyed spending time with her children and reveled in his uncle role in his own family, often entertaining nieces and nephews at Florian Hall.
His latest joy was getting to know triplets – two girls and a boy born to his nephew Neal Mullane Jr., a Boston fire captain, and his wife, Gianna. Mr. Mullane enjoyed sharing the latest photos of the triplets.
In addition to his brother and sister, Mr. Mullane leaves two other sisters, Jacqueline Miner of Hanson and Ann Diodati of Ipswich; and Malone’s sons, Sean of Lucedale, Miss., and Scott of Pensacola, Fla.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday in Saint Brendan Church in Dorchester. Burial will be in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester.
In a letter to union members, Rich Parish, president of the Boston Fire Fighters Local 718, said Mr. Mullane “committed his entire life to each of our families. He fought each day to better our working conditions, wages, and benefits.
“He put his entire life on hold for this local and our members for over 40 years,” Parish wrote. “This is a debt we can never truly repay, but Mike wouldn’t want us to. He is a humble Jake, who would simply say, pay it forward, and leave this place a little better than you found it.”
Photos from the wake of Michael Mullane: