Bostonia is published in print three times a year and updated weekly on the web.
At last month’s memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing victims, Governor Deval Patrick lauded the communal instinct that drove emergency personnel and ordinary citizens to help the injured that awful day. It was hardly the first time that the “Boston Strong” theme came up in the numerous commemorations of the tragedy. But the governor’s cadence transformed his words into peals of biblical uplift.
“There are no strangers here,” Patrick declared to those jamming the Hynes Convention Center. “I think of the young lawyer on my own staff who finished the route on Boylston Street equidistant between the first and second blasts. Or the friends who left the finish line minutes before the first explosion because their small children needed a nap. Or the friends who didn’t. There are no strangers here. I see nurses and doctors in elevators and at the CVS whom I met on their third shift a year ago caring for the injured.…I carry in my pocket today the photograph of Martin Richard holding a campaign sign for me when he was two years old.…There are no strangers here.” Eight-year-old Richard was one of the three killed in the bombings.
Patrick’s own life prepared him to be troubadour of this message: weaving hope from sorrow and adversity. He was raised on Chicago’s South Side in a one-room apartment by a single mother who needed welfare assistance—his father left the family when his son was three—and his talents propelled him to elite Massachusetts schools (Milton Academy and Harvard, where he was the first in his family to graduate college, then earning a law degree there), top jobs in law firms and business, and finally, the governorship. In that role, he will deliver the main address at BU’s 141st Commencement May 18. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws.
You could be forgiven for thinking of the governor as a late-in-life Terrier—Commencement marks the second time in as many months that he’s hit campus. In March, he spoke at an Initiative on Cities event on lessons from last year’s Marathon attack. It’s possible that the Class of 2014 will be glimpsing a future presidential candidate, a door Patrick has left oh-so-slightly ajar.
Prior to his election in 2006, Patrick’s jobs included legal work for the NAACP on voting rights cases in the 1980s, a job that saw him suing the state of Arkansas and a governor named Bill Clinton. Never one to hold a grudge in the face of talent, on becoming president, Clinton appointed Patrick assistant attorney general for civil rights, the nation’s top civil rights post.
Patrick’s gubernatorial tenure—he’s leaving office next January when his second term ends—overlapped with the Great Recession, forcing him to manage state services as the government hemorrhaged revenue. Admirers credit him with nimbly managing the crisis while boosting public education spending to record levels; the state’s schools remain among the top in the country. He also invested in clean energy, information technology, and medical science.
He generally received high marks for his leadership during the Marathon bombing, notwithstanding some objections to his one-day “shelter in place” request of residents during the ensuing manhunt. A MassInc Polling Group survey a week after the bombings showed Patrick with a 61 percent approval rating. Despite several management crises, such as a state drug lab scandal resulting in a former state chemist’s pleading guilty to falsifying test results and the revelation of the recent deaths of several children overseen by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which led to the resignation of the DCF head last week, the most recent poll shows that a majority of Massachusetts residents (53 percent) continue to approve of the governor’s performance.
Patrick and his wife of a quarter-century, Diane, have two grown daughters.
Honorary degrees also will be awarded to entertainer and education advocate Bill Cosby, BU trustee, businessman, and philanthropist Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74), Emmy-nominated actress and writer Mayim Bialik, MIT molecular biologist Nancy Hopkins, and Michael Brown, founder of the Boston-based nonprofit City Year.