Thomas Michael Menino, who insisted a mayor doesn’t need a grand vision to lead, then went on to shepherd Boston’s economy and shape the skyline and the very identity of the city he loved through an unprecedented five consecutive terms in City Hall, died Thursday. He was 71 and was diagnosed with advanced cancer not long after leaving office at the beginning of this year.
“Visionaries don’t get things done,” he once said, crisply separating himself from politicians who gaze at distant horizons and imagine what might be. Leaving to others the lofty rhetoric of Boston as the Athens of America, he took a decidedly ground-level view of the city on a hill, earning himself a nickname for his intense focus on the nuts and bolts of everyday life: the urban mechanic.
“At just after 9 a.m. this morning the Honorable Thomas M. Menino passed into eternal rest after a courageous battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his devoted wife Angela, loving family and friends,” Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said in a statement.
An old-school politician and devout Catholic whose own smarts owed more to the streets than the college classroom, Menino nonetheless helped turn Boston into a hub of 21st-century innovation, recruiting high-tech companies to the sprawling South Boston waterfront one minute, then cutting the ribbon at a neighborhood burrito shop the next.
A few weeks into his summer tenure as acting mayor in 1993, when some pundits fancied him a temporary caretaker, he offered a seemingly modest ambition: “I want to help people, help one individual a day. Just to make their life a little bit better.”
As his emissary of sorts, the mayor’s wife Angela Menino served on several boards while advocating for children and the elderly, women, and the homeless, and she helped keep Mr. Menino grounded in who he was and where he was from. “She watches out to make sure Tom Menino stays Tom Menino,” David A. Passafaro, the mayor’s former chief of staff, told the Globe in 2005.
Not long before Mr. Menino met his wife Angela, he found himself drawn to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. “In 1960 you couldn’t live in Massachusetts and be Catholic and ignore politics,” he wrote in his memoir.
Menino was honored at the Catholic Charities Greater Boston Christmas dinner in 2005, an event Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley did not attend. “In light of the mayor’s past statements concerning abortion and same-sex marriage policies, the archbishop regrets that he cannot attend the dinner,” the diocese’s statement said.
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, released a statement on the passing of Menino:
“It is a blessing for me to have known Tom and Angela since the time I arrived in Boston and to share in their faith and their good works. They always held providing support and assistance for people in need as a priority. It was not uncommon for the Mayor to attend several church services on a given day, at our Catholic parishes and the churches and worship sites of our ecumenical and interfaith brethren with whom he had very close and supportive relationships.
We pray for Mayor Menino as we give thanks for a life so well lived, for his wife Angela, their children and grand children, for the people of the City of Boston and all who mourn his passing. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.”
In a statement to the Globe, Ray Flynn, former Boston mayor and US Ambassador to the Vatican said, “Boston is a better city because of Tom Menino and the people of Boston are grateful for his commitment and service. The day I left City Hall to become U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, I said, ‘The city is in good hands.’ Today, Tom Menino is in good hands.”