By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
State and local officials who have worked with state Sen. Thomas P. Kennedy, D-Brockton, have expressed shock and sadness at his death.
According to Legistlative Aide Michael King, Kennedy died at Signature Health Care-Brockton Hospital surrounded by family and friends on Sunday, June 28.
“Sen. Kennedy proudly represented the 2nd Plymouth and Bristol District in the Massachusetts State Senate since 2009,” Kennedy’s family noted in a brief statement Monday morning. “Prior to joining the Senate, Tom served as a State Representative for his beloved city of Brockton since 1983. Senator Kennedy also served the city of Brockton as a City Councilor and as the city’s first Ombudsman.
“He will be deeply missed by all who knew him,” the Kennedy family stated.
Statehouse colleagues were also deeply affected by news of his death.
“From the time I met Senator Kennedy, when he was visiting the Whitman Finance Committee meeting when I was still a member, to just a few weeks ago when we saw each other at the East Bridgewater Memorial Day ceremony, he was always active in the community and available to talk about legislation pending at the State House or to celebrate the retirement of people who had served their towns or the state after years of service,” said state Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman.
While Diehl said it was an honor to serve and work with Kennedy to pass not only local home-rule bills, block grants to fund senior housing, and critical financial reform bills, he also appreciated Kennedy’s personal touch as a constituent.
“Just a year ago, Tom was good enough to take the time to come and speak at the ribbon-cutting of the new studio facility for my wife’s business in Hanson and it seems hard to believe that a year later, he is gone,” Diehl said. “His life was dedicated to spending time with the people of the towns he represented and his passing is a great loss to us all. I ask that we all remember him as the great public servant he was and that we pray for his close friends and family at this difficult time.”
Hanson’s representative in the General Court, state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, mourned his colleague while lauding Kennedy’s personal courage.
“He was a person who overcame many challenges in life and inspired all of us to work harder just to keep up with him,” Cutler said. “Tom’s leadership, compassion and kindness will be sorely missed in the legislature and throughout out district, and certainly will not be forgotten.”
Kennedy had been a quadriplegic since 1970, when he broke his neck in a fall while washing windows. He was a 19-year-old seminary student at the time.
“He was a great guy. He helped a lot of people, he was very humble,” said his cousin, Fran Cruise, who works with Old Colony Elder Services. “You’d try to thank him for something and he’d say, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I don’t want any praise.’ This is how he was. It’s sad.”
Cruise indicated that Kennedy had been ill for a while, having undergone “major surgery” in the fall and battled pneumonia a few weeks ago.
“He was always out — functions, everywhere — and that stopped him,” she said of the surgery. “I know that affected him because he was [usually] never home.”
While he looked good when she saw him at Easter, Cruise noted that his health had prevented him from attending Mass for a time and kept him from attending St. Patrick’s Day events — his favorites.
“He’ll be missed,” Cruise said.
Whitman and Hanson town officials also paid tribute to Kennedy’s life of service.
“I was saddened to hear of Tom’s death,” said Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam. “Tom was very committed to serving the communities he represented.”
“Sen. Kennedy was a man of character who overcame great obstacles in his life,” said Hanson Town Administrator Ron San Angelo. “I loved listening to all his stories of the past. He will be remembered fondly in Hanson.”
Whitman Selectmen Chairman Carl Kowalski said he was shocked at the news when contacted for comment.
“Sen. Kennedy served the people of this district long and well,” Kowalski said. “We’ll sorely miss him.”
They were sentiments shared by many.
“I’m shocked,” said Whitman Town Clerk Dawn Varley of her reaction. “A nice man and, for his situation, he did a lot of work.”
“Tom will be sadly missed by all of us in Hanson, for his unwavering commitment to Public service in serving all of citizens of his district and as an inspiration, to those with serious, life-long spinal injuries, that there is a road of success ahead if you take the time and the energy to strive to do the best you possibly can to rise above adversity, despite the odds,” said Hanson Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young.
Kennedy’s dedication to his work, and his personal touch were also remembered fondly.
“He was one of the most generous, kindest men I’ve ever known,” said Whitman Council on Aging Director Barbara Garvey. “He worked diligently for elders. He was very connected to the community — a public servant like no other. … He’ll leave a huge void in a lot of different areas.”
Hanson Multi-Service Center Director Mary Collins also expressed shock at the news.
“Oh, my goodness, this is the first I heard about it,” Collins said Monday morning. “He’s always been available to our seniors. He would visit us on special occasions — Veterans Day and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.”
She noted that Kennedy was especially fond of St. Patrick’s Day, and attended the annual senior luncheon bearing the gift of a shamrock plant for each elder attending.
“It was very special, and even though I’m sure his schedule was always very busy, he always found time to come,” Collins said. “I’m sad to hear of his loss.”