Opinion

opinion | Francis Bellotti

Edward Brooke, one of the last political giants

Edward Brooke’s feats laid the foundation for so many others who would come much later.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe STaff/File 2005
Edward Brooke’s feats laid the foundation for so many others who would come much later.

IN A time before countless media outlets, social media platforms, and 24-hour news coverage, giants who later would become legends dominated the political scene. Edward Brooke was one of those giants. To be a little trite, as an old politician is apt to be, I believe his passing marks the approaching end of an era in politics that will never return: an era of true trailblazers and political powerhouses.

My relationship with Ed Brooke began when he initiated an investigation of me while he was state attorney general — a pioneering role that made him the highest-ranking black elected official in the nation. In 1966, Brooke ran for (and won) the US Senate seat. My opponent in the attorney general race falsely accused me of wrongdoings during my previous tenure as lieutenant governor. The accusations that I had received money from a company doing business before the state were later proven false. I was cleared of any misdeeds by an independent panel, but not before it cost me the election. I am putting it nicely when I say our relationship did not begin on the friendliest of terms.

However, unlike the political environment of today where Democrats and Republicans are polarized against each other, Brooke could reach across the aisle to make connections and work with his colleagues to get things accomplished.

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Brooke and I, although from a distance, always had a kinship that can only be described as a result of the “we have survived” generation, where opponents of the past become friends of the present. Now only Bob Crane and I remain from those good old days, which is one of the many reasons that Brooke’s passing is so deeply saddening and nostalgic for us.

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Brooke not only blazed the trail as the first African-American senator since Reconstruction, but he also accomplished the impossible — to become viewed by his colleagues and the nation as a capable and effective senator, not simply a black senator. He was not defined by the color of his skin but by his commitment to his country. His accomplishments and determination laid the foundation for so many others who would come much later, including President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick.

With Brooke’s passing, I now know only one other person who served with me in World War II who is alive, a friend and fellow Navy SEAL. We dwindling veterans are dying at a rate of 2,200 every day. There are so few of us left from both World War II and the politics of the 1960s that Edward Brooke and his towering accomplishments become very personal to me and the remaining few who managed to survive “our time.”

At age 91, I can identify with the 95-year-old Edward Brooke more than most. His passing strikes a deep, emotional chord within me — likely more than it does for some of those who are politically active today but whose institutional memory teeters on the nonexistent.

Edward William Brooke was one of the truly great men of the greatest generation. For those of us who knew him, fought with him, and later befriended him, it is a very sad time. A part of our collective history has gone with him and that is what consumes our thoughts as we reflect on the loss of a great man — a man known personally to so few of those who followed in his giant footsteps.

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As we say goodbye to Edward Brooke and reflect upon his countless achievements, we must also say goodbye to a time in history that is passing with him and will soon be gone entirely: a time of giants.

Francis Bellotti is former attorney general of Massachusetts. He is of counsel to Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo PC and vice chairman of the board of directors of Arbella Insurance Group.