BOSTON The political elite of Massachusetts turned out at the State House Thursday to honor former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, who died on Saturday at age 65 of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
During the memorial, Cellucci was universally acclaimed as a shrewd politician with a compassionate agenda.
When Cellucci was governor from 1997 to 2001, Fred Kalisz was mayor of New Bedford. He says Cellucci helped that city and, despite some ideological differences, the two men got along.
“He had a common touch,” Kalisz said Thursday. “He could deal with people, he understood people. He could talk to you, there was no pretense about him. He was a regular guy.”
Kalisz stood across from the State House in a light drizzle Thursday, as State Police officers escorted Cellucci’s flag-draped coffin up the steps. Cellucci’s wife Jan and his children followed.
Cellucci’s coffin was brought to the House chamber, where numerous dignitaries waited. Among them: former Govs. Michael Dukakis, William Weld, Mitt Romney — and Acting Gov. Jane Swift.
“Paul proved, that in the blood sport of Massachusetts politics, you can be a truly good and decent person and succeed at the highest levels.” Swift said in her memorial speech.
Swift was one of many who praised the way Cellucci turned his political acumen to humane ends — moving the state forward on health care, education standards, homelessness, gay rights. Many also emphasized his work in recent years to raise funds for ALS research.
Swift, who became acting governor after Cellucci was made U.S. ambassador to Canada, gave special attention to his efforts to advance women leaders, including his appointment of the first female chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.
“And he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to govern the commonwealth he loved,” she said, her voice breaking.
In a testament to Cellucci’s generosity, Gov. Deval Patrick told the gathering that soon after he was elected, Cellucci invited him to a golf outing in the Berkshires. Patrick said he wondered what the Republican’s agenda might be.
“As far as I could ever tell, there was none,” Patrick said. “We talked about politics and governing, about families and career and life after governing, and then some more about politics and governing. My favorite piece of Paul’s good advice was about never losing control of your schedule, knowing how easy it is to do so. He underscored the point by telling me about the time, when as governor, he showed up to cut the ribbon on a new ATM.”
Cellucci’s humor and the twinkle in his eye was a common theme at the memorial. So was his dedication to his hometown of Hudson.
After the memorial, Cellucci lay in state in the State House Hall of Flags. He is only the 13th state resident to receive that honor.
A funeral is planned Friday in Hudson.
This post was updated with the All Things Considered version.