As acting mayor, and then as the first Democrat elected to the office, Thomas B. Concannon Jr. led his hometown of Newton for a more than three years in the mid-1990s, but if anything, his allegiance was even stronger to his Newtonville neighborhood.
“I’m not saying I love the city more than anybody else, but I really do love it,” he told the Globe a few days after he was elected mayor in November 1994. “I have a strong commitment and strong ties: My four grandparents were all married in this city, in the same church I still attend, and I haven’t lived more than 1,000 yards from where I was raised.”
When he settled into a home of his own as an adult, Mr. Concannon lived a block away from the house where he spent his childhood. He served on the Newton Board of Aldermen in the 1970s and had chaired the Newton Democratic City Committee. He had hosted a local cable access show and formerly was president of the Newton Cultural Alliance. And he was sanguine about being a one-term mayor.
“I had a good time doing it, and I would have liked to serve again, but it wasn’t meant to be, and that’s OK,” he told the Globe in 2002, adding with a laugh that an election defeat had an upside: “People are friendlier to me now than when I was mayor.”
Mr. Concannon, who practiced law in Newton for more than 40 years, died Saturday in Newton-Wellesley Hospital after suffering a massive stroke. He was 78.
An unusual sequence of events led him to the mayor’s office. Years after his Board of Aldermen tenure in the 1970s, a friend persuaded him in 1993 to again seek public office. “The doors opened, someone asked me to run for alderman, I ran,” he later recalled.
He won a ward seat that November, and then found himself in the mix in January 1994 as the board wearied of trying to pick a leader. R. Lisle Baker and Richard J. McGrath sought the presidency, but neither prevailed. After dozens of deadlocked ballots, the board chose Mr. Concannon.
“I think Tom Concannon will do a great job. He’s highly qualified and I can’t think of anyone better to head the board,” McGrath said afterward.
Little more than 10 weeks later, Theodore D. Mann, who had become the city’s longest-serving mayor, with 22 years in office, died of leukemia on April 9. At 11:40 p.m. that evening, Mr. Concannon, as board president, was sworn in as acting mayor.
“No one can really replace Teddy,” he told the Globe at the time. “He was a force, a real presence.”
In the following months, several candidates ran for mayor, Mr. Concannon among them. He finished second to Baker in September’s preliminary election and won the final election in November. Though the mayor’s race was a nonpartisan contest, he was the first Democrat elected to the office in Newton’s history, the Globe reported at the time. Mann was a Republican.
Speaking to the Globe a few days after that election, Mr. Concannon remained amazed at the events that took him from private citizen to elected mayor in little more than a year.
“It turned my life upside down,” he said. “I practiced law for 25 years. I was thinking in two years I would get my youngest daughter out of college. Going back to the board would be something to do. I always liked politics, being around people, and then it changed my whole life.”
Among the challenges was following a much-loved mayor. “This city has been a great city, and to keep it going we have to look over every facet,” Mr. Concannon said. “Teddy Mann left a great legacy in the city in the management style, but I think everything can be reexamined and improved.”
The third of five siblings, Thomas Bernard Concannon Jr. was born in Newton. From the beginning, he had a double-dose of inspiration for civic involvement. His father, Thomas Sr., was a Newton police sergeant. His mother, the former Anne Connolly, was a secretary in the Newton schools.
Mr. Concannon graduated in 1957 from Newton High School, and received a bachelor’s degree in 1961 from Boston College, where his major was economics. The following year, he graduated with a master’s in education from Boston State College.
He spent the next three years teaching fifth grade in Maynard, and then attended Suffolk University Law School, from which he graduated in 1969. Mr. Concannon practiced law not far from where he lived in Newton.
The 1994 mayoral win was his last election victory. Seeking reelection in 1997, he was defeated by David Cohen. Mr. Concannon subsequently fell short in Democratic primary races for a state Senate seat, Middlesex County register of probate, and Middlesex South register of deeds.
Mr. Concannon married Jeanne Twohig, and they had two daughters before their marriage ended in divorce.
“He became a single dad when I was 13 or 14,” said his daughter Maureen McDonald of Hooksett, N.H. “He’d always been a great dad, but that’s when he embraced the role. He was very patient, kind, and a good role model.”
When his daughters were away at overnight camp or attended out-of-state colleges, Mr. Concannon wrote each one a letter every day. “And they were written on his legal stationery and signed by him,” Maureen said. “It was very special.”
Mr. Concannon’s other daughter, Kate of Waltham, said that “he was always there for us. I talked to my father, when I was an adult and out of the house, some days three or four times a day.”
She added that “we were truly blessed to have him as our father. We always knew how proud of us he was. And he ended every conversation on the phone or in person with ‘I love you.’ ”
In addition to his daughters and former wife, Mr. Concannon leaves a brother, William of Newton, and two grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian burial will be said at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton. Burial will be in Newton Cemetery.
“He absolutely loved Newton, everything about it,” Kate said. “He didn’t understand why you’d want to live anywhere else.”
Mr. Concannon volunteered his services as an attorney to the elderly and to domestic violence survivors. And in 2002, he began hosting a public affairs program, “Newton Common,” on the city’s public access channel. He figured his work had prepared him to help citizens sort out contentious issues.
“I used to say that divorce law prepared me for politics, and politics prepared me to go back to divorce law,” he told the Globe then. “Divorce law makes the Middle East look like charm school.”
Those roles prepared him for his time in the spotlight as mayor, too.
“You’re in the supermarket, picking out cat food, and someone’s grabbing your arm and telling you all the things that are wrong with the city,” he recalled in 2005. “But it comes with the territory.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.