Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino dead at the age of 71

Former Mayor Tom Menino passed away just one week after he decided to stop receiving treatment for cancer at the age of 71.

For 20 years Tom Menino led the city he loved.

“I, do solemnly swear, that I will support the Constitution of the United States,” Menino said at his swearing in.

For many in Boston, he will always be remembered as “The Mayor,” a title that seemed most unlikely when he was elected to the Boston City Council in 1983.  He became acting mayor ten years later, in 1993, when his predecessor resigned to become an ambassador and, he won the first of his five full terms in the mayor’s office.

For 20 years Tom Menino was the face and heart of Boston. When the city struggled with violence, Menino marched for peace.

When tragedy fell upon its bravest heroes, Menino wept, prayed and honored their lives.

When Boston sports teams rose to become world champions the mayor happily kicked off the celebration. Again, and again, and again.

From day one, he touted education and summer jobs for city youth. His stance against guns was so strong, he formed mayors against illegal guns with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006.

He was tireless. When a poll showed that nearly half the city’s residents had met the mayor personally it was easy to wonder how so many had not come into contact with Menino during all his early-in-the-morning to late-at-night days on the job.

Thomas Michael Menino was born in 1942 into tightly knit Italian-American family. His grandparents lived on the first floor of their home in Readville, a section of Hyde Park.

He never thought he would go to college, but he did, ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree from UMass Boston while he was a City Councilor.

He met his wife Angela while playing tennis with a friend. They were married 3 years later. His wife, his family, his children and grandchildren were the center-pieces of his personal and political life.

“I am the first Italian-American to hold this office, and am I proud of that?  You bet I am,” he said in 1994.

During two decades, he always put the city above himself.  

“I want the City of Boston to be for everyone,” he said.

To many Boston school children, he was a father-figure, for many residents, he was a family friend who knew how to get things done.

He was a champion of the homeless and hungry, keeping tabs on them during the coldest winter nights.

Menino loved economic growth, he understood it created jobs and supported neighborhoods.

If there’s an image of his time in office, it’s the revitalized seaport district.

But he always put people ahead of business.

When one restaurant chain with a history of discrimination wanted to open in Boston, Menino tried to stop them.

“It’s about equal rights in our city, that’s what this is all about,” he said.

In 2006, when an electronics store released a new gaming console Boston police were called in to control the rowdy crowd.

“I think it was a publicity stunt,” he said. “They have to be held responsible for taking 12 officers off the streets of our city.”

Looking back, it’s hard to believe, but in 1993, many political watchers doubted he’d even get a second term!

“All the reports the mayor will only last one term. He’s not handsome, he can’t speak, all those things, those are superficial things when you’re elected, it’s what you got in your heart,” he said.

And his heart was always Boston Strong. When the tall ships came in 2000, Menino took the helm and welcomed the international crews.

When democrats chose Boston for their 2004 national convention Menino rolled out the red carpet and joked about his accent.

“There are three things that sound great with a Boston accent, Fenway Park, a lobster dinner by the harbor, and my favorite, I’m proud to be a member of the Democratic Party!”

He was famously known to stumble on his words but he took it all in stride.

“Sometimes I might uh, mumble once in a while.”

As a prominent politician, he spent some of his time with celebrities like actor Ben Affleck, Oprah, Jimmy Fallon, and comedian Bill Cosby.

But it wasn’t all laughs for the mayor.    

He took a tough stand when negotiating union contracts triggering protests.

Along the way, there were a series of health scares.

In 2003, a cancerous growth was removed from his back. In 2012, a trip to Italy was cut short when he fell ill. He was hospitalized for two months after returning home:    

But it was clear he wasn’t, and Menino himself knew his reign at City Hall was coming to a close.

A few months later, he emotionally made it official.

“I will leave the job that I love.”

Suddenly, city hall was wide open. Twelve candidates announced they wanted the job the mayor never wanted to give up.

“I think the city is doing very well today. Not just in some of the neighborhoods, but all of the neighborhoods,” Menino said.        

He only had 7 more months left to serve when the unthinkable happened at the Boston Marathon finish line

Two bombs killed three people, and wounded hundreds of spectators:

“People were very nervous about it, nobody expected this to happen in Boston.”

Menino got out of a hospital bed to lead the city: “nothing can defeat the heart of the city, nothing!”

In the final act of his 20 years as Boston’s mayor, Menino carried the city lifting the spirits of its survivors and victims to overcome a devastating tragedy.

“Know that our support and love for you will never waver. Know that the people of Boston and I will be right there by your side.”

As the city remembers Menino, we think about his legacy. Politics was always personal for the mayor, and nothing is more personal than love.

“I just did my job every day to the best of my ability, reaching out to people, seeing what they needed, try to help them,” Menino said. “I just say as mayor I love this city, I love the people.”