When i was growing up in South Boston, we had a great Mayor. Ray Flynn.
I was a bit young to understand politics at that time, but he was well liked around many parts in South Boston.
My first interaction with him was, as told by my mother – There was some dedication ceremony at Castle Island and i walked up on stage and sat next to the Mayor as they announced something which i can’t remember. I don’t even recall doing that.
My next encounter was something that stayed with me, i was walking down Preble street one day and heard a commotion of fire engines, people screaming etc. Apparently there was a big fire on the very corner of Preble St and Dot Ave. And then i saw that Mayor Flynn was helping a young lady that appeared to be burned away from the raging fire. That never left me.
Fast forward to Thomas Menino. The man who started a push for “Bike Week” was himself hit by a car. The man that every time he spoke publicly, you listened to hear the funny mistakes or the umpteenth mispronounced word.
After school we used to head to Chinatown Cafe almost daily for lunch and occasionally we’d see the mayor come in. That was my first glimpse of Mr. Menino. Unimpressive but always dressed to the nines. He’d come in, talk to Mr. Soohoo the owner and joke around a bit and get his food and typically leave.
You would see his name and sometimes his face on everything going on in the city. That which is expected from a local politician and a consummate politician he always was. Nobody could have the nickname ‘mumbles’ in public office and not be a bit of a personality.
Years later, there was a city-wide competition for photographs of the city for use by the city. I decided to enter, people loved my city photography, i thought i had a good shot at winning. I was amazed to find out they used two of my photographs. They even had a ceremony for the winners at City Hall which Mayor Menino gave out the awards. In typical busy person fashion, he gave out the awards, thanked everyone personally, some small chit-chat and went back to his office to get more important things done.
On the way out, i saw him sitting at his desk talking to some folks and interrupted them and ask him for a photograph, to my surprise he agreed. He even joked around with me, asking how to pose and i was surprised to see some of his influences such as Harry Truman in a painting on the wall behind him. My impression was that there was more depth to the man and it started me on a mission to know more about the man. Indeed after reading a bit more online, i started to find out that he was much more than just another Mayor of the city of Boston. He was deeply ingrained in the mesh that makes this city and more importantly what makes this city great.
The Boston Bikes initiative, the DNC Convention, the Innovation District ( A real one, not the like the ‘declared but rarely used one in Quincy. ), he stood up for Gay Rights with the Chick-Fil-A issue and he stood up in general for those that were deserving and needed his help.
Oftentimes, you hear of politicians that devote their life to public service. Only to later find out that they most lined their own and perhaps friends pockets with lots of money. But Menino was different. He lived in a modest house in Hyde Park and i’m not saying he never did any favors for anyone, of course he did. But it never resulting in great riches for himself or his friends. He truly dedicated his life, not only to public service but also to making Boston a better place when he recently left us.
And what a legacy to leave behind… having an entire city love you like they loved the Red Sox in 2004… Going out with that kind of legacy is something most of us can only dream about. I think oftentimes history fares well for politicians as time heals most wounds. But it’s not often a political figure passes with so much love from all sides, so soon after their passing.
He did many amazing things for this city and Martin Walsh, his successor has some really large shoes to fill. Menino will be sorely missed.