Paul F. Nace Jr., 73; was consultant in 2004 Kerry campaign

Mr. Nace founded a political consulting firm in Washington and served with the Navy in Vietnam.
Mr. Nace founded a political consulting firm in Washington and served with the Navy in Vietnam.

Casualties were mounting in Vietnam in 1966 when Paul F. Nace Jr. went for his induction physical in New Orleans. The doctor asked Mr. Nace, who had just earned an MBA from Columbia University, if he really wanted to pass. Mr. Nace wanted to pass.

He had lost a childhood friend in Vietnam, his father had fought in World War II, and Mr. Nace wanted to enlist. He joined the Navy and served in the Mekong Delta.

Decades later, after a long career as a political consultant, Mr. Nace stepped forward during Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004 to lead the counterattack against Republican-led assaults on Kerry’s war record.


Though Mr. Nace had worked on many campaigns throughout his career, including those of Ohio Senator John Glenn and President Jimmy Carter, Kerry’s narrow loss to President George W. Bush hurt the most.

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“He felt it personally. He felt it for his friend, and he truly believed that more men and women were going to die unnecessarily in wars around the world because we lost,” said James Cannon Boyce, a friend who also worked on the Kerry campaign.

Mr. Nace, a Gloucester resident who developed biofuels technology in more recent years and was a Boston real estate developer, died March 16 at age 73. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for many years.

His friend Thomas Vallely, a Vietnam veteran who worked on Kerry’s 2004 campaign, said Mr. Nace was a caring person and loyal friend.

“He took pleasure when other people did well,” said Vallely, who is a senior adviser at the Harvard Kennedy School and former director of its Vietnam program.


During the Kerry campaign, Mr. Nash found himself clashing with campaign advisers over how to respond to what became known as swift-boating, shorthand in political lexicon now for a nasty smear.

“Paul tried very hard to get the focus on, ‘Let’s defend. Let’s defend,’ ” Vallely recalled.

“In the end we partially blamed ourselves. We thought we should have fought harder,” Vallely said.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Nace was the oldest of four children. He was named after his father, a biology professor who served in World War II and briefly went AWOL to visit his son at a hospital shortly after Paul was born, according to family lore. Paul’s mother was the former Eleanor VanWagner.

The family also lived in Woods Hole, where Mr. Nace acquired a love of boats. He grew up in a strict Catholic family.


One of his sisters recalled a tumultuous day when Mr. Nace’s parents found out he had skipped a benediction. “You would have thought he robbed a bank,” his sister Susie said.

‘He could be very disarming. You might not at first see the brilliance and the wit. He could see campaigns very clearly. He was knowledgable and strong and willing to say what he thought.’

“He was charming and he was loving. He was a straight arrow, only he gave the impression of being mischievous and carefree. He was always so much fun to be with,” she added.

In addition to his wife, Sally, and his sister Susie, who lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Mr. Nace leaves another sister, Kate Nace Day of Woods Hole. Burial will be private.

Mr. Nace studied biology and chemistry and graduated from Boston College in 1964, before earning his MBA. He served in the Navy from 1966 to 1969, according to his family.

He had a jovial presence and easy laughter, friends said. But behind his smile and sparkling eyes was a tough strategist.

“That was his affect. He could be very disarming. You might not at first see the brilliance and the wit. He could see campaigns very clearly. He was knowledgable and strong and willing to say what he thought,” said his friend John J. Farley III, a retired justice of the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, who lost a leg while serving in Vietnam.

He and Mr. Nace became friends while graduate students at Columbia. “If I had won the war in Vietnam, Paul wouldn’t have had to go,” Farley quipped.

They enjoyed playing golf together and exchanging barbs. “He would never give me any strokes,” Farley said.

Mr. Nace founded a political consulting firm in Washington and had a stint as top aide to Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. O’Neill III during the Dukakis administration.

“I had enormous respect for him — great political skills, great intelligence, and all kinds of energy, always an uplifting guy. You couldn’t feel lousy with Paul around,” said former governor Michael Dukakis.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Nace accompanied Kerry and Vallely on a return to Vietnam, where he visited former combat scenes along the river.

“He was a wonderful soul. He loved people and people loved him,” said his longtime friend Christopher O’Neill, a Washington lobbyist and another son of the late US House speaker, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.

Mr. Nace was 50 when he married Sally D. Jackson, owner of the Boston public relations firm Jackson & Company.

They were friends for many years before they began dating. Sally’s irreverent sense of humor and outgoing personality won his heart, friends said.

It was a first marriage for both. They wed in a small ceremony on New Year’s Eve 1993, where friends played the wedding march on kazoos. Sally announced their union in a news release with the headline, “Boston Spinster Finds Good Apple at Bottom of Barrel.”

They were “absolutely pals for life,” Sally said. “It was like two pieces of a puzzle fitting together. He was the kindest man I ever met. He was so thoughtful of other people’s feelings,” she added.

In recent years, Mr. Nace used an oxygen tank to assist his breathing. But he refused to let the tank keep him from enjoying life, according to his wife. He installed a breathing tube long enough to allow him to get around on the decks of his 34-foot cruising boat, named Sally Forth.

Mr. Nace’s most recent passion was alternative energy. He launched a company in 2006 and was chief development officer for Framingham-based Biofine Technology.

The company uses its own technology to turn cellulose materials into fuels and marketable chemicals. In May, Biofine launched a pilot bioproducts plant in May in a partnership with the University of Maine.

“I found him very refreshing,” said his Biofine business partner, Stephen Fitzpatrick. During their early meetings, Fitzpatrick was immediately impressed with how much Mr. Nace had studied and understood the business of biofuels, he said.

“We’re starting to hit our stride now, thanks to him mostly. We were trusted colleagues and friends and I miss him a lot,” Fitzpatrick said.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at