The funeral last week for former Gov. Paul Cellucci was an unusual moment in our partisan world of government. People from both sides of the political aisle showed heartfelt sadness over his death to Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 65, and recalled qualities and strengths that perhaps should have been better appreciated during his life.
Cellucci, who served as governor from 1997 to 2001, wasn’t known for being a firebrand public speaker. A Republican, he wasn’t particularly partisan. He didn’t carry himself in a manner that reeked of self-importance.
Instead, he remained true to his roots as a nuts-and-bolts leader. He had started his political career as a selectman in a small town, then moved on to the state Legislature. He had a calming way about him, a willingness to work with people and a touch of Italian machismo. He was more apt to find compromise than to vilify.
Cellucci held true to the tenets of Massachusetts Republicans — he was a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. If there was an issue that would cause him to raise his voice, it was invariably taxes and spending, though even then he was never a podium-thumper.
Former Gov. Jane Swift, who succeeded him, recalled that, “despite a significant risk, he was reliably pro-choice, and his leadership on the issue of domestic violence ... saved lives.”
As Swift put it, Cellucci 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.”