Governor's Mansion Not the Last Stop on Patrick's Path, Classmates Say

State's 1st black governor-elect charmed his College chums over gin and tonics in Holworthy

As a Boston lawyer and then as the Clinton administration’s top civil rights enforcer, Deval L. Patrick ’78 investigated cases ranging from predatory lending to church burnings. But he first began acquiring real-life detective skills long before—as a freshman in Holworthy Hall, where he religiously watched the TV cop series “Kojak.”

Patrick today overwhelmingly defeated Republican opponent Kerry M. Healey ’82 to become Massachusetts’ first-ever black governor, and its first Democratic chief executive in 16 years. While it was Patrick’s maiden run in a statewide campaign, it's not the only time he has won office in Massachusetts—he was co-chair of the Dunster House Committee nearly three decades ago.

But Charles W. Breaux ’78, who lived in Patrick’s freshman year entryway, remembers that the future politician was less successful on the first-year party circuit than he would be on the campaign trail.

“We didn’t have much of a social life in the first few months,” Breaux says. “Our big social thing was that we would get together on Friday nights and make these giant gin and tonics.”

And, of course, they’d watch Lt. Theo Kojak, the New York City police officer who fought crime in what was then a gritty neighborhood of lower Manhattan.

Patrick himself came to Harvard from a gritty urban neighborhood—the South Side of Chicago. But he quickly found a path to high society.

According to Breaux, who would be his roommate in Dunster for the next three years, the two freshman friends served as bartenders for Harvard Student Agencies (HSA). At the time, the drinking age was still 18. Patrick bartended at many parties—including, sometimes, for events hosted by the famous cook, Julia Child.

But it wasn’t all glamorous. Patrick and Breaux also took on some more unusual jobs—like counting cars on the highway for HSA.

“We would leave the campus at 4 in the morning and stop at the Dunkin' Donuts in Central Square and we would drive out to some highway in Boston,” Breaux recounts. “We would sit on the highway counting cars and then we would race back at 9:30 to make a 10 o’clock class.”

But between jobs, Patrick, who graduated with honors in English, found time to focus on his academic work. His sophomore English tutor in Dunster House, Andrew H. Delbanco ’73, remembers Patrick’s commitment to his studies.

“He was a very serious and intense and thoughtful student,” Delbanco, now a professor at Columbia, says. “He took his work very seriously and it was a great pleasure to have him in the class.”

The feeling was apparently mutual. In an interview last spring with The Crimson, Patrick cited Delbanco among the teachers he remembers best from his time as an undergraduate.

WORKING THE ROOM

In his journey from the South Side of Chicago to the north shore of the Charles River, Patrick passed through Milton Academy, a suburban Boston prep school, which he attended on a scholarship from the organization A Better Chance.

When he came to Harvard, he was already dating a girlfriend from Milton Academy who also attended the College. But he had no serious girlfriend while he was an upperclassman, according to Breaux.

It wasn’t for lack of charm. “He could have dated anybody he wanted to date,” Breaux says.

“He was probably the most extroverted, socially with-it guy I’ve ever met in my life,” Breaux adds. “Just one of those guys where you knew he was going places. He could work a room like nobody you’ve ever met before.”

This social talent landed Patrick in the exclusive Fly Club, but Breaux insists that the final club was not a major part of Patrick’s life and that he wasn’t a “big social club guy.”

Patrick said last year that he renounced his membership in the Fly Club in 1983, because of the influence of his wife, Diane.

ALREADY A LEADER

Those close to Patrick also remember him for his early interest in social justice.

Breaux recalls that, though Patrick wasn’t an “overt politician” as an undergraduate, he was a “quiet, positive, social force.”

Patrick’s freshman year roommate, Greg M. Lipshutz ’78, who is now an instructor in neurology at the Harvard Medical School, was also struck by the future governor-elect’s character.

“He was someone who would be willing to stand up for what he believed in,” Lipshutz says.

And he was eloquent in defense of his beliefs, friends say. “He could just talk extemporaneously,” Breaux recalls.

Patrick would engage in heated political debates with his classmate Grover G. Norquist ’78, according to Breaux. Norquist is now a prominent anti-tax lobbyist and a board member of the National Rifle Association.

As a student at Harvard Law School, Patrick’s oratorical skills would win him the 1981 George S. Leisure Award, granted to the best speaker in the final round of the Ames moot court competition.

A STEPPING STONE

Christina M. Tchen ’78, who served as co-chair of the Dunster House committee with Patrick, says that his decision to run for governor “didn’t come as a surprise” and that he was “clearly a leader.”

Delbanco, the onetime English tutor, agrees that Patrick was destined for a career in public office.

“I always thought Deval would have a distinguished future,” Delbanco says. “That he is emerging as a national political figure does not surprise me.”

Patrick’s friends are also confident that his human skills will transfer into his political life.

“This guy is the real thing,” says Lipshutz, who reconnected with Patrick during his campaign for governor. “The things that you are hearing about him really are true: he’s sincere and he has integrity.”

The qualities that have carried Patrick from Dunster House to Beacon Hill might lift him even higher, friends say.

According to Breaux, “all of the Class of ’78 have broad aspirations for Deval beyond the governorship of Massachusetts.”

—Staff writer Claire M. Guehenno can be reached at guehenno@fas.harvard.edu.edu