By Richard Gaines , Staff writer
He was surrounded by family and a legion of friends, followers and protÉgÉs in the shadow of Faneuil Hall on Wednesday, where a 10-foot statue of White that evolved in the Gloucester studio of renowned sculptor Pablo Eduardo was unveiled to the delight of those in attendance.
The small park near one of Boston's most famous tourist attractions will be presided over by White's bronze likeness - large, intense, deep and warm, and seemingly ready to leap forward into another new idea.
It captures the man many would credit for dragging Boston kicking and screaming out of its parochial backwater into the world-class status it enjoys today.
The bronze statue of White evolved at Eduardo's Bray Street studio, where the subject, who has Alzheimer's disease, put himself at the disposal of the Gloucester sculptor.
The personality-robbing disease has rarely met a victim with so much to lose, including a political touch that at its best seemed heaven-sent and at other times was more than enough. Even at 76 and more than four years since his diagnosis, White provided his artist with what Eduardo called "lots of interaction" from "a very nice man" who "told me lots of stories."
The Bolivian-born sculptor and Gloucester resident won a nationwide competition that drew 55 proposals for the sculpture.
In the end, said real estate executive Robert Beal, the entire selection committee he served on and White's two grade-school grandchildren, Ben and Andrew Strawbridge, all agreed Eduardo was the one for the nearly impossible job of capturing the former Boston mayor.
"We were all in agreement," Beal said.
"There wasn't a doubt," said consultant Micho Spring, who was White's deputy mayor and one of a cadre of women for whom White, an inventor of what is now called "diversity," opened the door to his inner political sanctum.
Spring pointed to the enormous steps from the statue in the park between the City Hall that White christened and the Faneuil Hall Marketplace that he imagined, brokered and willed into existence as he created a modern city during his four terms.
The White era began with his election in 1967 and technically ended when he walked out of office at the end of 1983 to start a second career as a professor at Boston University.
These big steps, Spring said, symbolized White's persona and impact; she praised Eduardo's likeness of White for its physical and implied monumentality.
At 36, Eduardo, who has lived and worked in Gloucester for eight years, is already recognized as a pre-eminent talent whose relaxed everyman manner belies the intensity of his work. He said he was especially pleased by the impression of action he was able to sculpt into the cast bronze.
In June, while working on White's statue, Eduardo was selected as the sculptor for a statue of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. When finished, Eduardo's Chavez will be the first statue of a Hispanic figure on the campus of the University of Texas.
Spring said the White selection committee was impressed by Eduardo's 15-foot bronze interpretation of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Boston College, where a plurality of the city's political and business leaders of White's generation - but not he - were educated.
White was educated at Williams College in western Massachusetts. When forming his new administration, he reached further for talent of all stripes than any previous mayor had - just as racial, cultural, political and global pressures began exploding across the country with the epicenter in Boston and Cambridge.
He took office just as the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements were merging. In the days immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, White, instead of canceling a Boston Garden concert by James Brown, decided to put it on television - and induced people to stay home and watch it rather than lash out in anger over King's death.
One member of his first team, Barney Frank, now a congressman, was one of a dozen speakers, including Mayor Thomas Menino, at Wednesday's event. Frank noted the vast number of innovations that came to be during White's administration - and are taken for granted today - neighborhood health centers, little city halls, race and gender blindness, corralled highway expansion, modern mass transit.
Spring observed that White "was at the forefront of an entire generation of youthful mayors" and noted "his political genius was that he stayed in office long enough" to see that his work would last.
Twice, in 1972 and 1976, even after the ugliness of federally forced busing exposed a Boston legacy of racism, White came close to vice presidential selections.
David Harrison, a retired district court judge who represented Gloucester in the Legislature and became White's friend, was in the crowd Wednesday to pay tribute.
"He was the best politician in history," said Harrison, who said he lobbied U.S. Sen. George McGovern in 1972 to put White on the ticket.
Four years later, it was Jimmy Carter who nearly selected White as his running mate.