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‘That Twinkle In His Eye': Jane Swift Reflects On Paul Cellucci

BOSTON — Former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci has died from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 65. One of his closest political allies was Jane Swift, who was elected lieutenant governor when Cellucci was elected governor in 1998. Swift then became acting governor after Cellucci resigned to become U.S. ambassador to Canada in April 2001.

Swift, who was the first woman to serve as governor in Massachusetts and held that office until 2003, spoke with Weekend Edition about the late Gov. Cellucci from her home in Williamstown, Mass.

Sharon Brody: Gov. Swift, thank you for joining us, and our condolences. 

Jane Swift: Well, thank you very much. I want to add my condolences as well, of course, to Gov. Cellucci’s wife, Jan, and his daughters. It’s a tremendous loss for the commonwealth but also for his friends and family.

Gov. Swift, how will you, in a personal way, remember Paul Cellucci? 

I think it will always be that twinkle in his eye, the dignity with which he not only faced this terrible illness but, frankly, was consistent with how he lived his life.

Paul had some very strong positions on issues but was always able to maintain relationships with his opponents and his allies alike while putting forward his position and, most often, being successful in that way. So I think it’s that sort of gentlemanly approach, the way that he loved life. And you saw that in the twinkle in his eye.

You know, we shared the fact that both of us have only daughters. And I will always remember when he came to visit me the morning after Elizabeth was born and was obviously relieved that we had a healthy baby but he leaned into me and said, “Daughters are special.”

You alluded to his bipartisanship. And with the Cellucci administration, and later the Cellucci-Swift administration, Gov. Cellucci was definitely seen as a Republican who knew how to get things done with a Legislature dominated by Democrats. How do you think he made that work? 

“He knew that the ends were important and achieving consensus often would result in victory.”
– Former Gov. Jane Swift

Well, first of all, he did it by being very clear on what his priorities were. I think sometimes people believe that working in a bipartisan way means that you abandon your principles and he did not ever do that. But I think he had enormous respect for the institutions he served in and the offices that others held.

And he also had an ability to forge personal relationships, whether that was playing Bocce with some of the Democratic leaders in the Legislature in the North End, taking in a movie, he just had an ability to let you know — while he may have disagreed at times with your opinions — that he valued your service.

And I think the other important thing for him was, the outcome was more important than the credit. And so, whether it was trying to lure the New England Patriots back from a potential move to Connecticut or ensuring that we had enough necessary runway expansion at Logan Airport, he knew that the ends were important and achieving consensus often would result in victory.

Well, speaking of outcomes, what do you consider his greatest accomplishments? 

That’s so hard. Clearly his role in limiting taxes and making Massachusetts more competitive, I think, has to rank at the very top. His courage in bringing forward the ballot question to bring the income tax back to 5 percent, I think was an exercise of enormous courage in politics.

But personally, and as a mother of three daughters, the quiet and sometimes public role he played in advancing women’s leadership in so many different ways is probably what my children will benefit from the most. You know, he appointed Margaret Marshall as the first woman to head the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, but he also was a tireless advocate for domestic violence victims and brought attention to that issue back when many people didn’t speak of it. He was a legislative stalwart on the issue of the role of nursing in Massachusetts. Just so many things that advanced the cause of women and their ability to lead and be a vibrant part of the fabric of our community is what I’ll hold most dear.

Well, not to mention, when Paul Cellucci chose you as his running mate in 1998. I mean, that set up the history making elevation of a woman to the governor’s office for the first time in Massachusetts and I’m kind of curious whether the two of you ever wound up talking much about how he felt about the substance and also the symbolism of that. 

Well, I think he loved the symbolism. I think if you go back and look at the clip, he was thrilled. There’s a tradition when a governor leaves, that they write a note in a book that’s only used for notes between governors and their successors. And when he read aloud at the transition ceremony “her excellency,” and he brought all of his acting abilities to it with a dramatic pause, I think he did take a lot of pleasure in that, mostly because there were so many women in his life who had played such strong roles that he respected. Certainly his talented and smart daughters, his wife who forged her own career while they had this wonderful partnership, his mother, his sister Rosanne, so I think he got not just the symbolism but felt it was time to break that glass ceiling.

Is there anything that might surprise people to learn about Paul Cellucci? Or perhaps that surprised you to find out about him?

You know, I guess it wouldn’t surprise folks, but I think you read a lot about his integrity and his loyalty. But, just how consistent and steady that was, I think is something that is so remarkable in today’s world whether that was his loyalty to his family or his loyalty to his hometown in Hudson. Not many of us have our best friend from third grade walk through every large moment in our life with us but Paul did that while still forging many other strong relationships.

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