Massachusetts political figures from both parties paid glowing tribute Thursday to former Governor Paul Cellucci in a memorial service at the State House— where he spent nearly a quarter of a century in public life. Cellucci died Saturday at the age of 65 of complications from A.L.S.
The honor guard carried the coffin up the front stairs of the State House into the House chamber, passing a string of dignitaries, including Governor Deval Patrick, former governors Mitt Romney, Jane Swift, Michael Dukakis and William Weld.
During the service, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said even though he and Cellucci belonged to different political parties, they enjoyed sharing their Italian American heritage. They would sometimes eat together at Italian restaurants or play a game of Bocce:
“He was pretty good at Bocce,” DeLeo said. “But not as good as he thought he was.”
Patrick described Cellucci’s wry humor and common touch. Swift, who was Cellucci's lieutenant governor, says he 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,” she said.
Swift’s voice broke as she talked about how Cellucci created political opportunities for women.
“His appointment of Margaret Marshall as chief just of the Supreme Court was bold, inspiring and historic as she became the first woman to lead a branch of government in our state … and he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to govern the Commonwealth he loved,” she said in her eulogy.
Weld, Cellucci’s good friend and political partner, recalled his powerful intellect and good looks. Weld told a story about how once, they went to a welfare office in Lawrence with a group of women. There was a poster of Fabio, the male model, reclining nude on the beach, on the wall behind them.
“I innocently asked the women whether the poster of Fabio reminded them of anyone in the room. Every single one of them turned to look directly at Paul and blushed to the roots of their hair,” he said during the memorial service.
Cellucci spent most of his adult life in politics. He rose from a small town selectmen in Hudson to governor and then ambassador to Canada. In the final years, he threw himself into raising money for ALS research.
After the memorial service, Cellucci’s body was taken to the State House Hall of Flags, where the public was invited to pay last respects. A funeral Mass is scheduled for tomorrow in Hudson.
Watch former House Speaker Tom Finneran and former State Treasurer Joe Malone remember Gov. Cellucci on Greater Boston.