THE WORLD witnessed Mayor Menino's unbreakable drive to serve Boston when he checked himself out of the hospital to attend the memorial service for the victims of the Marathon bombing. He stood and rallied the city.
Many who had the honor to work for him during his 20 years as mayor were not surprised. I caught a glimpse of that physical relentlessness after he was released from the hospital following a much less serious bout with cancer. The mayor wanted to go out and meet the public soon upon his discharge, starting with one of his frequent neighborhood tours of local businesses, this time in West Roxbury. While his ailment then, thankfully, was a slow-moving form of soft tissue cancer, it nonetheless required a deep incision that hadn't quite healed. Just getting in and out of the car seemed agonizing. But he made his way into Hanley's Bakery, bought a few of their signature brambles, and chatted with some customers.
As the visit went on, all seemed pretty straightforward fare for a mayor who had done this countless times before. It was only moments later, when he removed his jacket and returned to the car that I saw the area around the bandage had stained his white shirt pink with blood.
In 2004, I saw the force of his convictions. During a six-month span, Menino confronted a host of challenges, any one of them would have normally been the biggest thing a mayor had to face in a given year: the granting of the first same-sex marriage license in Boston; struggling with the city's labor unions; hosting the first national political convention after 9/11; rioting, and planning a "rolling rally" following the Red Sox's first World Series in 86 years.
As a precursor to the Democratic National Convention, the mayor had invited presidential candidate and then-Senator John Kerry to the US Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Boston. While Menino hosted a Boston Pops concert at Symphony Hall for the dignitaries, the Kerry campaign announced the candidate would not attend due to picketing by the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association. I learned the news at a nearby hotel where a group of reporters and campaign staff were gathered and rushed to Symphony Hall to inform the mayor.
I'll never forget standing with the mayor in an alcove off the lobby as he called Kerry, whose side of the conversation I could not hear. The mayor held firm, explaining to Kerry that he could not accept an agreement the city could not afford. Ultimately an arbitrator settled the dispute, and Menino stood with Kerry at a rally sending the nominee off to campaign.
Menino will always remain an unstoppable and larger-than-life presence. When his friend and colleague in the administration, Albert "Junior" Lombardi, succumbed to cancer, the mayor delivered his eulogy in East Boston. This self-proclaimed non-orator relayed how Lombardi's family had decided to bury the deceased with his cellphone. When he heard this the first time, he remembered, he told Lombardi's wife, "just make sure there are batteries in it. That phone might ring." He finished his remarks: "Call me, Junior. I love you."
I know there are a lot of people in Boston who wish they could call the mayor right now and tell him they love him.
Seth Gittell is a former press secretary for Mayor Thomas M. Menino.