Feb. 1, 2012
BOSTON — Hours before Kevin White's funeral began on Wednesday, mourners lined up outside St. Cecilia's Church in the Back Bay. Then one by one, Boston's living political history made their way inside. Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Peter Meade, former State Sen. President William Bulger, White's successor as mayor Ray Flynn — on and on it went.
White, credited with revitalizing downtown Boston and shepherding the city through the court-ordered busing crisis in his four terms as mayor, died Jan. 27 at the age of 82 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Bagpipers led the funeral cortege. Arriving at the church, White's family cheerfully greeted his honor guard: a who's-who of the city's present-day founding fathers and mothers. White's widow Kathryn advised them to remember: This funeral was a celebration.
White's lifetime companions were at his side as the casket rolled down the aisle and the church bulged with the family, friends and Everyman White had touched.
Boston mayor Tom Menino was the first to speak: "So much of what we love about our city began with him. The style, his wit, his big smile, he made us proud to be Bostonians. For those of us in public service, he showed us what difference one leader can make."
When he took the city's highest office, Menino said, "One of the first calls I made: 'Mayor White, it's Tom Menino.' To which he says, 'Wait a minute, hold it. I'm Kevin. You're Mayor Menino. I'm not Mr. Mayor. You are.' Which is when maybe I started to believe it myself."
But, Menino concluded, "on one point he was wrong. He will always be Mr. Mayor to us. May he rest in peace."
Rep. Barney Frank — unscripted and off the cuff — remembered what it was like being one of White’s young aides.
"Let’s get this right about Kevin: He was a great political leader," Frank said. "But he wasn’t somebody who thought it was necessary for himself to work 12 hours a day on the phone. He understood the values of delegating, but he also understood that if you were going to delegate to people, first you had to pick the best people for the right job."
In physical and verbal gestures eerily reminiscent of his father, Mark White said that life was always filled with the unexpected.
"I remember one Christmas morning when I was 13. We were all downstairs, the lights were on, the fireplace is roaring, we’ve already opened our stockings and are halfway through opening our presents. Suddenly in this Norman Rockwell–like setting, my father jumps up with those piercing blue eyes and leads us out the front door to Mt. Vernon Street to an awaiting surprise for us all. And there standing on the sidewalk was a horse. And a bright red bow around its neck."
That kind of thinking had ramifications for the whole city, Mark White said: "When my father would come up with what seemed at their conceptions to be equally disturbing ideas, absurd ideas, like Summer Thing, Faneuil Hall, Tall Ships, James Brown concert the night of Martin Luther King’s death, First Night and so many others, most of you had the same initial reactions that the horse and my mother had that Christmas morning: Kevin, what are you thinking."
The son concluded, "He was quite simply the most interesting, imaginative, fun and loving father and friend a son shall ever have. I shall miss him dearly."
Lifelong friend Bob Crane, former state treasurer, brought the crowd to tears and a standing ovation for his tribute to Catherine White.
"Back when you were Kevin’s wife, he made a promise in church that went something like this: in sickness and in health, until death do us part," Crane said. "I’m not sure how long it’s been — nine years, 10 years, 11 years, since his illness began to take him from us, but what I do know is that through every painful step along the way, Mary and I have watched you keep that promise with the love and devotion that touched our hearts in ways I can’t begin to describe."
And Crane addressed Kevin White as well: "My dear friend, thank you for everything. Thank you for everything you’ve meant to me and everything you’ve meant for everyone here today. Surely, goodness and mercy did follow you every day of your life and you dwell of the house of the Lord forever. God bless you, Kevin. The song has ended but the melody lingers on."
Following the funeral services, White's funeral cortege resumed to the strains of the bagpipers' "Amazing Grace" and to applause. It marked the final passage of an era marked distinctly by White's successor, Mayor Ray Flynn.
COMPLETE WGBH COVERAGE
Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.