NEWTON — State House dignitaries from past and present gathered Wednesday morning at Our Lady Help of Christians church to pay their respects to A. Joseph DeNucci.
The number of lives touched by the former boxer, state auditor, and legislator over the course of his storied career on Beacon Hill was evident by the sheer number of people who filled the pews during the funeral liturgy.
Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, former US representative Barney Frank, former House speakers Salvatore DiMasi and Charles Flaherty, Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, and state Representatives Kay Khan and Byron Rushing were among the many in attendance.
DeNucci died Friday at his home in Newton. He was 78.
State Police troopers and members of the Newton Police Department stood silently in uniform outside as DeNucci’s friends, relatives, and colleagues filed into the church. A Newton fire truck was parked in front of the church with its ladder extended and a gigantic US flag hanging from its ladder.
Mr. DeNucci grew up in Newton’s Nonantum neighborhood, started boxing professionally while he was a junior at Newton High School, and fought in more Boston Garden bouts than any other boxer.
He was elected to the Massachusetts House in November 1976 and served as chairman of the Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee. He was elected state auditor in 1986 and became the longest-serving state auditor in state history, serving 24 years before retiring in 2011.
The Rev. Dan O’Connell, pastor of Corpus Christi-St. Bernard parish in Newton, stood at the front of the crowded church and reminisced about how he felt when he first met DeNucci. O’Connell remarked how the former middleweight contender greeted him by saying, “Father, you’re a champ.” O’Connell chuckled at the memory: How often does a 5-foot-4-inch priest get called a champ by a former prizefighter? It was a classic moment, and just one of many memorable moments that DeNucci’s friends and family shared at his funeral.
“Joe spent his time making people feel good about themselves,” O’Connell said. “He loved people.”
O’Connell said DeNucci attended church regularly, often with his children.
“They would spend the entire Mass trying to get him to quiet down,” O’Connell joked.
Eulogies were delivered by DeNucci’s son, Alex, his grandson, Eddie, and his longtime friend and colleague Linda Luongo.
Luongo, who worked for DeNucci as a legislative aide and deputy state auditor, said DeNucci will be remembered for his tenacity and his intelligence. “Joe really listened,” she said.
Former state representative Peter G. Trombley described DeNucci as “the toughest kid in Newton,” and recalled DeNucci’s warmth and how he was always genuinely concerned about the well-being of others.
“He cared about people’s feelings,” Trombley said.
Frank praised DeNucci for being a “wonderful man” who was very liberal “in terms of making sure the government performed for people . . . He was an early spokesman in favor of gay rights,” Frank said.