Terry Murray’s portrait breaks a long streak

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The unveiling of former Senate president Therese Murray's official Senate portrait at the Great Hall of the State House.

By Jim O’Sullivan Globe Staff 

When Terry Murray returned to the state Senate Chamber to pose for the artist who would paint her official portrait, he wanted her to sit — as portrait subjects often do.

But the first woman to lead either branch of the state Legislature — and just the second whose portrait will hang in the State House due to her service as an elected official — had other ideas.


“I really felt very strongly that as the first female that I wanted to stand in front of the state symbols and be holding the gavel, to show the authority of the office, for females to see that it was something they could attain,” the former state Senate president said Thursday.

The state seal, the Senate president’s gavel, and her mother’s brooch are among the talismans Murray picked for her portrait, which was unveiled at a Thursday evening ceremony.

At the outset, said Murray, she had not wanted to be painted at all.

“It’s not something I wanted to do,” said the Plymouth Democrat, who spent 22 years in the Senate and the final eight in charge of the chamber, a tenure during which she was not known for mincing words.

“I hate pictures of myself, I didn’t think anyone would care,” she said.


But friends prevailed upon her that Murray’s presidency marked history in the state’s politics, and she eventually came around to their view.

“I hope that inspires not just girls and young women, but boys, that there’s a different face now of leadership, that there are different faces of leadership,” Murray said in a telephone interview before the ceremony.

Murray’s presidency was noteworthy for more than her gender, said several of the bold-faced political names who attended the Great Hall ceremony on Thursday.

She was a pivotal figure in the state’s effort to preserve same-sex marriage, and was in the vanguard of legislators who wrote the 2006 health care expansion, widely known as “Romneycare.” Murray also helped lead the effort to expand the state’s life sciences industry.

“Terry made history, but she also during her tenure did things that changed lives,” said former state senator Joan Menard, who was a top Murray deputy.

Until Thursday, according to State House veterans, former acting governor Jane M. Swift was the only woman whose portrait hung in the State House as a tribute to her time in office.


Painted by Warren and Lucia Prosperi, who also rendered former Senate president William M. Bulger, Murray’s portrait will likely hang in the Senate Reading Room after renovation work on that part of the State House has finished.

“I’m very pleased that Jane is no longer the only high-ranking woman in state government,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who attended the ceremony. “[Murray] worked hard, came up through the ranks.”

Polito added that Murray’s ascent was notable because she was “not a Boston-based politician.” Murray’s Plymouth-based district has been among the state’s most conservative and was recaptured by a Republican upon her departure.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who attended the unveiling, praised Murray as “way ahead of the curve” on a number of policy fronts, notably life sciences and gay marriage.

Murray recalled that when she first came to the Senate, female members had to use public State House bathrooms, rather than the equivalent of the far more accessible facilities their male counterparts used near the Senate floor. She was the first woman, she recalled, to wear pants in the chamber, trespassing against tradition and an unwritten rule.

And, noting that her ancestors had come to the United States as immigrants without papers, she reflected on what the long parade of other portrait subjects whose visages now hang in the offices and halls of the Senate would think of her reign.

“They’re all men, they’re all white men,” Murray said of her Senate president predecessors, who stare down from the walls. “There are no pictures of women. That will change today, and hopefully not for long, I won’t be the only one.”

She added, “I used to sit in my office and look at all those guys with their muttonchops and their beards and think, ‘Oh my gosh, what would they think, this woman sitting here, the descendant of Irish immigrants, and not cleaning the place?’ ”

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at
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