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UPDATED: October 30, 2014, at 10:35 p.m.
Former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who worked closely with Harvard presidents on projects in Allston and the Longwood Medical Area, died on Thursday morning. He was 71.
“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,” longtime Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said in a statement, according to The Boston Globe, which first reported the news.
Menino was Boston’s longest serving mayor. He took office in 1993 and was consistently re-elected by double-digit margins. Even as he announced in 2013 that he would not seek a sixth term in office, he confidently declared that he could win again if he wanted, a pronouncement few disagreed with, as his approval ratings often eclipsed 70 percent.
“No one I've known has personified Boston’s heart and soul, its drive and its resilience, more than Tom Menino. I have been privileged to call him a mentor and a friend,” University President Drew G. Faust said in a statement on Thursday. “All of us can learn from his powerful and humane example, and his countless friends and admirers across Harvard will greatly miss and long remember him.”
A ‘UNIQUE’ MAYOR
Menino worked alongside four Harvard presidents and countless University employees assigned to massage Harvard’s relationship with the city. On Thursday, many of those Harvard officials remembered Menino as a unique politician.
“He was an absolutely extraordinary person, totally candid, totally unpretentious, always frank in his discussions with anyone,” Neil L. Rudenstine, Harvard’s president from 1991-2001, said in an interview.
Still, under Rudenstine, Harvard’s relationship with Boston, and its leader, had its share of ups and downs. In June 1997, the University disclosed that under a covert program launched under Bok in 1988, it had anonymously acquired over 50 acres of land in Allston and was preparing development plans.
The secret holdings blindsided Menino and touched a nerve. The partnership did not recover until Lawrence H. Summers was named Harvard’s new president in 2001. Summers made a point of visiting Menino soon after he was elected, and the men became close friends and partners. Though they too had their minor disputes, Summers and Menino worked together to craft and approve Harvard’s ambitious plans in Allston.
“Tom Menino was a great friend to Harvard and to me,” Summers said on Thursday. “In his own unique way, he saw how by working together a great university and a great city could be greater still. I’ll always treasure the memory of our times together.”
‘THAT’S WHAT LEADERSHIP SHOULD BE’
After Summers left the Harvard presidency in 2006, Menino said he was left unsure about the direction the new leadership would take.
“When there is a transition of administrations, you never know what the new administrator is going to do,” Menino said last year in an interview with The Crimson. “We didn’t know how it was going to end up.”
When Faust was picked to replace Summers, she quickly paid Menino a visit in Boston. The trip began a tradition for the two leaders, who met from time to time for breakfast either in Boston or at Faust’s official residence in Cambridge.
Just over a year after that first visit in 2007, Faust went to see Menino again with the difficult news that Harvard would suspend its ambitious building projects in Allston.
“I drove out to his house in Hyde Park because he had just had an injury to his knee and couldn’t leave the house, and so he received me there and was deeply concerned but also pretty understanding,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “He asked a lot of us but understood what the limits were.... He was tough on me but also understood.”
It was a far cry from the bitterness of ten years’ prior, when Menino characterized the relationship as “no relationship.” In his second two terms as mayor, Menino began to actively work with Harvard students during visits to campus and through fellowship programs that landed Business School and Kennedy School graduates on his staff.
“Nobody worked harder than Mayor Menino. You couldn’t log enough hours to outwork him. He was terrific to work with and for,” remembered Meredith L. Weenick ’90, who went to work in Boston City Hall as an HBS fellow in 2002 and became a close adviser to Menino. Weenick returned to Harvard as the vice president for campus services this spring.
As Faust and Menino began to work closely together—Harvard has now restarted its development in Allston—the Harvard president said she took certain cues from the veteran Boston politician.
In Menino, Faust said on Thursday, she saw a leader who again and again earned and validated the trust of his people. That trust was on display, Faust remembered, during the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. When he heard the news, Menino, confined to the hospital with a broken leg, demanded he be released. Two days later, he stood on that very leg during an emotional speech at a memorial service in Boston’s south end.
Faust, who was in attendance that morning, remembered being overtaken by Menino’s strength.
“He was about his city and about his community [that day], and nothing was going to keep him from performing that service for all of us, which was to be our leader, to be the inspiring person who brought us together, who himself showed the strength that was part of Boston Strong,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
“His leadership was so validating at that moment, and that’s a powerful lesson,” Faust added, describing Menino’s work during the aftermath of the bombings. “That’s what leadership should be.”
—Staff writer Zara Zhang contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida.
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