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opinion | l. rafael reif

Reflecting on Tom Menino’s natural leadership

Mayor Menino put on a modified Superman T-shirt during the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/file 2001

Two years ago on a summer night, days after I’d been installed as MIT’s president, I went to Fenway Park, where I participated in a pregame ceremony with Mayor Menino and others. When he and I met, and he heard the word “MIT,” he lit up. It was clear to me that he knew the place. And then he said, “You guys have that Latino kid, who is high up there in the administration, and he’s really, really good.” Hmm, I thought: I’m from Venezuela — but he’s not talking about me. Who is he talking about? Then I realized — he was talking about Israel Ruiz, our executive vice president and treasurer. I did not have the heart to tell the mayor that Israel is, well, from Spain.

When I caught up with Israel after that night, I learned that he and the mayor were forming a powerful bond around an issue not directly related to MIT. It turns out that Israel had become active in the Boston Public Schools, and that the mayor had noticed his work and asked him to do more. Together with many others, they would end up improving the Eliot school in the North End — but they also managed to work on a project to increase equitable access to quality schools for every student in the city.

Israel and I reflected on the mayor recently. What sticks with us is this: Here was a man who believed fiercely in giving real opportunity to all children, and he knew that education was the key. Israel came to think of the mayor as the grandfather of every child in the Boston Public Schools. I came to see him as a natural leader, always able to attract people who could make a difference in causes that mattered. I was so glad to see that among them, there was a “kid” from MIT.

L. Rafael Reif is the president of MIT.