By Andy Metzger and Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON -- Returning to the building where he helped forge his reputation as a smart and generous public servant, the late Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci laid in state Thursday in the Hall of Flags.
“Paul was a natural. He was touched by fire,” said former Gov. Bill Weld, who ran with Cellucci, as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, in back-to-back victories in 1990 and 1994, part of an unbroken streak of wins over the course of Cellucci’s career in electoral politics.
The State House was filled with former and current elected officials, Democrats and Republicans paying homage to the pol from Hudson, who died Saturday after years battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, sat in the front row of the House chamber next to former Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, and former Acting Gov. Jane Swift and former Gov. William Weld.
“Paul was a public servant first and a politician second. 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,” said Swift, who Cellucci selected to run on his ticket as lieutenant governor.
In a voice that cracked at times with emotion, Swift praised Cellucci’s efforts to advance women in positions of power, which was borne out by his appointment of Margaret Marshall to be the first female chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, and in smaller gestures, such as discounting comments made about a woman’s “female temperament” that he thought would not be made about men, Swift said.
“Despite a significant risk, he was reliably pro-choice, and his leadership on the issues of domestic violence, and Herculean efforts to pass legislation to protect victims from their assailants, saved lives,” Swift said. She said, “He did usher in an era of leadership for women.”
Romney did not speak during the service Thursday, but stopped briefly to talk with reporters after going through the receiving line.
“A man of character and vision who brought a level of dignity to this building that will not soon be forgotten. His contributions in public safety, in caring for those that were the victims of crime, in improving our school system through education reform, and in reducing the burden on taxpayers. All those contributions will long be remembered by a truly great governor and great friend,” Romney said.
Asked whether the Massachusetts Republican Party has leaders in the mold of Cellucci who could carry on his legacy, Romney said, “He’s a unique character. He’s one of a kind.”
The remembrances were hardly limited to Republicans, and the room was filled with prominent Democrats, including Congressman Ed Markey, former Senate presidents Bill Bulger, Tom Birmingham and Robert Travaglini, former Speaker Tom Finneran, former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and former Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry along with Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker Robert DeLeo, who served as master of ceremonies.
“A former member of the House, he paid attention to us and treated us all with great respect,” said DeLeo, who said he and Cellucci would eat together at Italian restaurants in the North End and played bocce ball.
DeLeo also ribbed Weld over a story that the Yankee from Cambridge ordered milk with his pasta rather than wine when he dined at the downtown eatery Marliave. DeLeo said, “It was Paul Cellucci who taught Bill Weld how to eat pasta and most importantly what to drink with it. Milk, governor? Really?”
Weld praised Cellucci’s handsome looks, saying “the spirit informs the flesh,” and what he said was Cellucci’s deep intellect. At Saturday budget review sessions, Cellucci would summarize the situation succinctly and say what needed to be done about it, Weld said.
“If I may say so, he was always right. It kind of took the steam out of the rest of the discussion,” Weld recounted. Speaking from the rostrum with Cellucci’s American flag-draped coffin placed directly in front of him in the well of the chamber, Weld addressed his former lieutenant and business partner directly, saying, “We knew you deeply because you gave fully of yourself.”
The ceremonies, which concluded with a receiving line for public officials and members of the public to pay their respects to Cellucci and his family, including his wife Jan, their two daughters and four grandchildren, attracted a slew of familiar faces long absent from the marbled halls of the capitol.
“A lot of the people who were here haven’t seen each other in quite some time so it’s sort of bringing back the old Cellucci crowd so I think it was a really nice sendoff for him. Very touching,” said former Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei.
Tisei, whose father died of ALS, said very few politicians, let alone Republicans from Massachusetts, have worked their way up the chain of power from local to state and then national politics.
“I think since Calvin Coolidge, Paul probably comes the closest to touching all the bases climbing up the political ladder,” Tisei said.
Having begun his political career by election to the Hudson Charter Commission, Cellucci was elected to the House in 1976, and was elected to the state Senate in 1984 before Weld tapped him to run with him in 1990. In 1997, when Weld left to pursue an ambassadorship to Mexico, Cellucci assumed the governorship, and in 2001 bestowed the state’s chief executive duties to Swift, when he became ambassador to Canada. Choked up, Swift, the first woman to serve as governor, said Cellucci “gave me an opportunity of a lifetime to govern a Commonwealth he loved.”
Early into Patrick’s first term, which began in 2007, Cellucci reached out and asked Patrick to play golf with him, an outing in the Berkshires that Patrick said offered an “insight” into Cellucci’s character.
“Mostly we talked. I kept wondering what his agenda was, but as far as I could ever tell there was none,” Patrick said. “We talked about politics, and governing, about families and careers and life after governing, and then some more about politics and governing.”
Cellucci advised the new governor not to lose control of his schedule, according to Patrick, and “underscored the point by telling me about the time, when, as governor, he showed up to cut the ribbon on a new ATM.”
American-bound planes were diverted to Canada, immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and then Ambassador Cellucci and his wife Jan traveled from Halifax to Vancouver, thanking all of the places in Canada that had allowed the planes to land, said Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States.
“He was pretty dignified but very blunt,” Doer said, recalling Cellucci’s continuous lobbying for Canada to purchase its own C-17 aircraft so the Canadians could stop “hitch-hiking” on American planes. Doer said Cellucci’s “nudge” eventually won out as the country has ordered the planes.
“Just another example of Paul Cellucci putting the puck in the net,” Doer said.
From the House chamber, family, dignitaries, current and former elected officials made their way to black curtain-draped Hall of Flags where the coffin laid in repose. On the stairway down, Romney stood chatting with Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) and Weld talked with Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford).
“I told Weld today, he’s my favorite after Cellucci,” Montigny told the News Service.
Andy Card, a state representative from Holbrook before becoming chief of staff to President George W. Bush, said Cellucci cared for everyone. Card was one of the three other Republicans in the House that Cellucci immediately bonded with, including Andrew Natsios and Leon Lombardi.
After the four Republicans signed on as early supporters of George H.W. Bush’s first unsuccessful campaign for president in 1980 and traveled New Hampshire with the former president, the elder Bush dubbed them “The Four Horsemen,” and on Thursday a wreath hung outside the Hall of Flags with a ribbon emblazoned with the moniker.
“He was unusually quiet for someone who was a politician. He didn’t practice bombast. In fact, you couldn’t get him to practice bombast,” Card said of Cellucci.
UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins described when Cellucci told him about two years ago that he had ALS and wanted to make his affliction public, and raise money to research the disease.
“It was clear to me that Paul Cellucci knew he was about to entail on his final campaign,” Collins said. A medical doctor, Collins said, “His hand had become weakened, but the strength of his cause and his resolve were overpowering.”
The Senate unanimously approved a Murray amendment to the budget earlier this year, naming an ALS registry after Cellucci.
“Paul has left a great mark on this commonwealth, and he will always be remembered,” Murray said from the rostrum Thursday.
Cellucci’s family sat in the gallery and received a resounding ovation from those gathered. Among the attendees were State Police Superintendent Timothy Alben, SJC Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, SJC Justice Robert Cordy, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, Thomas P. O’Neill III, Attorney General Martha Coakley who sat next to former Attorney General Tom Reilly, Treasurer Steven Grossman, former top Cellucci aide Mary-Lee King, and former legal counsel Len Lewin.
Prominent Republicans in attendance included Republican committeeman Ron Kaufman, House Minority Leader Brad Jones, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, and former Treasurer Joe Malone.