Allan R. McKinnon, former Turnpike Authority chairman, dies at 88

Mr. McKinnon repre-sented Weymouth on Beacon Hill.
Mr. McKinnon repre-sented Weymouth on Beacon Hill.

As the state Legislature sped toward adjournment a few days before Christmas in 1982, Senator Allan R. McKinnon stood to give his colleagues a lump of coal — and a few more lumps, besides.

“I rise reluctantly, but I feel I must express my frustration and disappointment at the performance of the Legislature over the past weeks,” he said that day. “I have served in the Senate for 12 years, and at no other time have I been more depressed and ashamed of our public image.”

Mr. McKinnon, who was 88 when he died Jan. 26, was criticizing lawmakers for approving with little or no debate a bunch of amendments, some of which benefitted the politically connected. It’s not uncommon for lawmakers everywhere to do the same thing late at night, late in the year, or just before the holidays.


Standing up to take to task colleagues on your own side of the aisle is far less common. And though Mr. McKinnon would ascend to a powerful post five years later when he became Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman, his brief speech that December day in 1982 derailed the aspirations he had for rising as a Weymouth senator in a chamber then led by William Bulger.

“The clubs, the boys, were going to be taken care of, regardless of whether they’d served well,” Mr. McKinnon said in a 2004 Globe interview, as he spoke of the comments that led to his fall from the Democrats’ inner circle.

In 1982, he had told the lawmakers: “If anyone is offended by my remarks, so be it. These sentiments have been inside me for weeks and I could no longer keep silent.”

Mr. McKinnon was “fundamentally decent,” said former governor Michael S. Dukakis, who appointed him Turnpike Authority chairman in 1987.

“He cared deeply about his constituents, his state, and what he was doing,” Dukakis added.


“He was a bright guy who did his homework, and one of the best legislators I ever knew.”

A history teacher turned lawmaker, Mr. McKinnon initially kept teaching government part time while serving in the Senate, to supplement his legislative pay.

He was on the Weymouth Board of Assessors when he decided to run for Senate in 1970. Elected that fall, he served for 14 years and then was deputy secretary in the state Department of Transportation for two years before Dukakis appointed him authority chairman, a post Mr. McKinnon held until 1996.

Among Mr. McKinnon’s legislative accomplishments was helping to secure initial state financing for the commuter boat service to the South Shore. As Senate chairman of the joint insurance committee, he opposed towering rate increases and played a key role in auto insurance reorganization legislation that took effect in 1984.

Mr. McKinnon also was a committed death penalty opponent in the Senate, a position that inevitably drew criticism.

“Talk show hosts were fanning the flames,” he said in the 2004 interview.

“I don’t think society should say, ‘You have done this horrible thing; you took a human life and you know what we’re going to do? Take your life,’ ” he added. “I’m just against it philosophically.”

Born in 1930, Allan R. McKinnon grew up in Weymouth, the youngest of nine siblings, half of whom were from his father’s earlier marriage.

His parents were Susan Farrar and Joseph McKinnon. Mr. McKinnon was a boy when his father died.


Those who met Mr. McKinnon later as a public official knew him “as an articulate man. He was a fantastic speaker,” said his daughter Kerin of Mattapoisett.

That wasn’t always so. Mr. McKinnon’s brother Warren of Hull said that “one of the interesting things about him was that he was scared to death of making speeches” as a youth, even though he was president of his senior class in high school.

“He said, ‘I almost joined the Army to avoid speaking at my high school graduation. I was that terrified,’ ” Kerin recalled.

Mr. McKinnon got over his fear of public speaking and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s from Bridgewater State College.

In 1958, he married Anne McLaughlin, whom he had met in high school. She was the force behind her husband’s political success, their daughters said.

After he was elected to the Senate, Mr. McKinnon and his wife were walking through Boston Common “and they ran into someone she had dated a few times in high school, and he was homeless,” Kerin said. “My father said, ‘You could have been married to him,’ and my mother said, ‘If I was married to him, he might be a senator.’ ”

Mr. McKinnon had taught history and government in the Weymouth and Holbrook school systems and later taught night classes at what was then Quincy Junior College.

In the Legislature, he delighted in parking his Honda Civic next to the fancier cars of some Senate colleagues. Mr. McKinnon’s idea of a campaign fund-raiser was a “steak bake” with a low admission charge so everyone could attend. He loved parties and get-togethers of all kinds.


“He was the first to get down on the floor to play with the dogs. He loved puppies and kids and singing songs,” said his daughter Megan Mc-Kinnon Cormier of Medford, who added he insisted that the reception at The Lantana in Randolph, after his funeral Mass, be a joyous, crowded affair.

“We’re having an open mic so people can tell stories,” Kerin said. “He wanted a party.”

During Mr. McKinnon’s years as authority chairman “the Turnpike was the best maintained piece of highway in America,” Dukakis said. “It was spotless.”

Dukakis recalled that one morning as Mr. McKinnon was driving to a meeting in Springfield, he pulled over, got out of his car, and penciled the time and date on a piece of trash he spotted in the median. When the trash still there on his late afternoon drive home, Mr. McKinnon called Turnpike supervisors to find out why unsightly garbage was allowed to linger so long.

After Mr. McKinnon retired in 1996, he and his wife moved from Weymouth to a smaller residence in Rockland. Mrs. McKinnon died in 2001.

In the years that followed, Mr. McKinnon and Jaquelin Taylor of Pocasset became a couple. They dated once in high school before beginning their romances with the woman and man each married. After they were both widowed, they became companions again.


In addition to his daughters, brother, and companion, Mr. McKinnon leaves a son, Sean of Braintree; Bob O’Brien of Mattapoisett, who grew up in the McKinnons’ home after his own parents died; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Feb. 23 in St. Francis Church in Weymouth.

Over the years, “we always were hearing about all the things my dad was doing for everyone else,” Megan said, though Mr. McKinnon avoided publicity for his good deeds, professional or personal.

“I’ve had a good life. I’ve done things I’ve enjoyed doing. I think we did a certain amount of good things,” he told the Globe in 2004.

“God,” he added, “has been good to me.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BryanMarquard.