Remembering Thomas Menino

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Menino

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — For Boston residents and for those attending official events in the city, seeing Mayor Thomas Menino was routine.

The mayor, who became Boston’s longest serving mayor, died on Thursday, October 30, in the city he loved so much, at the age of 71.

It was clear that the cancer that had been ravaging his body for many years was strengthening its hold on him, making him increasingly frail. The news a few days prior that he had decided to forego any further treatments made it clear that there was no hope.

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Much of the city, including the members of the Armenian community in Massachusetts, mourned the death of this plain-speaking man who though not as educated as many of his subordinates, understood leadership and in the process rejuvenated a lagging city and made sure that every segment of the community could take part in that success.

For the Armenians, Menino played a critical role in the creation of the Armenian Heritage Park on the edge of the city’s historic North End neighborhood. Initially, when the project was presented to Menino, he had opposed it. However, after studying it further, he not only changed his mind but became an advocate for it.

Thus, the website of the Armenian Heritage Park features a tribute to the late mayor, including a video of his comments at the official opening of the park in May 2012.

Middlesex Country Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, speaking on Monday, recalled the bravery of the mayor.

“I knew him for a long time before” the Heritage Park negotiations, he said, through his law school roommate and very close friend, the late Brian Honan. Honan was elected to the Boston City Council, becoming friends with Menino. Tragically, Honan himself died of cancer in 2002.

Koutoujian said at the first meeting with Menino about the park, his initial response was “How are you going to pay for it? His second question was how are you going to maintain it?” After a couple of negotiation sessions, Koutoujian said, during which it was made clear to the mayor that all the funds for the creation and maintenance of the park would be raised privately and after he knew that the North End neighborhood was eager to have the park, Menino became a proponent of the idea.

“He was always in touch with his community. He was one of our greatest supporters in that period,” Koutoujian said.

Koutoujian recalled that during the May 2012 opening of the park, Menino was in excruciating pain. “The ceremony was very long and he was in a great deal of pain. We offered a number of times the opportunity for him to leave and he said he didn’t want to do so. His own ethnic background made him feel sympathetic to our experience.”

He added, “It was a really powerful example of his commitment to our Heritage Park and to our people.”

On that memorable May day, Menino stood with a whole host of dignitaries, from Governor Patrick to Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and the highest ranking members of the Armenian Church. In his address, he paid tribute to the Armenian immigrants for enriching the state and the city. “We’re a city of immigration and this is a strong part of our city,” Menino said.

The day of the ribbon-cutting was an exceptionally rainy and blustery one. Menino joked, “God upstairs is sending holy water. I didn’t know He would have this much holy water!”

One of Menino’s hallmarks was his desire to meet his constituents and walk on the streets of every part of the city as much as possible. As Koutoujian said, “there have been surveys that show 60 to 70 percent of the residents of the city met him and shook his hand. I don’t think we will ever see that again.”

Another example of his character, Koutoujian said, was how he took his beloved wife, Angela, on a long-promised trip to Italy even though his body was wracked with pain. Unfortunately, the couple had to cut the trip short as his health was taking a rapid turn for the worse.

Koutoujian worked with Menino in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Koutoujian recalled how he was on Arsenal Street in Watertown when Menino arrived by car and came out in a wheelchair but he summoned his strength to get up to speak. He singled Menino out for “a speech that was historic” at the Cathedral of Holy Cross on April 18, in the presence of President Barack Obama as well as Gov. Deval Patrick and a host of dignitaries. “He grabbed onto the podium and delivered a magnificent speech,” he noted.

Menino became mayor in 1993 when as president of the Boston City Council he took over for the departing Mayor Raymond Flynn, who had been named US ambassador to the Vatican.

He was dismissed early on as an “urban mechanic,” but he consolidated his power over two decades. In the process, he helped transform Boston into a thriving economic and cultural center and a magnet for high-tech companies.

He left his imprint on the skyline, especially downtown and in South Boston, where empty warehouses and a decrepit waterfront gave way to glassy condos, corporate offices and upscale restaurants.

He spent his whole life in Hyde Park, where he was born.

He never aspired to higher office, which helped account for his longevity in the office he loved. He admitted he was not a visionary. “Visionaries don’t get things done,” he said. Rather, he focused on plowing the roads, fixing the streetlights and cleaning up the parks.

“I’m not good-looking,” he once said. “I can’t speak well. I’m not smart.” But he added: “I’m driven. I have the opportunity to change people’s lives.”

His proudest accomplishment, he told the New York Times in 2012, was making the city more hospitable to immigrants and minorities, particularly after the violent upheaval in the 1970s over court-ordered busing to integrate the public schools.

“My number one thing is bringing racial harmony to the city,” he said.

Menino was born on December 27, 1942, in Hyde Park. His grandparents had emigrated from Italy.

Menino graduated from high school in 1960 and briefly attended night classes at Boston College but dropped out. He later regretted that decision, and in 1988, at age 45, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Out of high school, he sold insurance for Metropolitan Life. He met his future wife, Angela Faletra, in 1963 when they were playing tennis on adjacent courts. They married three years later and had two children, Susan and Thomas Jr. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by a brother, David; a sister, Carolyn Phipps; and six grandchildren.

Concluded Koutoujian, “While some say it is too bad he didn’t have a longer retirement, he loved the job more than anything. Everyone should be so lucky to love his job as much as he did.”

To see Menino’s complete speech at the Armenian Heritage Park, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PP9mxWvUtE

(Portions of an obituary from the New York Times were used in this article.)

 

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