The Lone Walk
Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts walked down the Grand Staircase of the State House for the last time on January 7th.
The central doors of the Bullfinch-designed building, kept locked, opened for the occasion. As he disappeared through them, I cried. Crowds of well-wishers both inside the State House and outside in the bitter cold, did the same.
Deval Patrick made history eight years ago by becoming the first black governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Like his friend Barack Obama, who became another first for African-Americans, he came into office on a tidal wave of hope, one that he helped foment. Like the President, he almost immediately ran into a brick wall, in his case not the Congress, but the depression of 2008 that sucked budget funding away from a number of his visionary projects.
Nonetheless, he accomplished a surprising amount in housing, transportation, education and health care, a legacy of which he can justly be proud. I will miss his personal warmth, his steady leadership during the Marathon Bombing, his consistently moving oratory, his dedication to fairness, and his quick sense of humor.
In 1884, Governor Benjamin Butler initiated the tradition of the Lone Walk by kicking open the central doors and striding from the State House on his own, an act that sounds characteristic for the former Major General of the Union Army. Though no saint, Butler was a fierce advocate for civil rights throughout his federal and state careers. As governor, he appointed the first woman, Clara Barton, to executive office as head of the Reformatory for Women and, fittingly, the first African-American judge, George Lewis Ruffin. Deval Patrick probably already knew that.
Once through the majestic doors and down the steps fronting the State House, the governor crosses the street into the Boston Common, symbolically becoming, once again, a private, common citizen of Massachusetts. I admire a 130-year-old tradition that brings the verity and elegance of poetry to politics. Just as I admire a governor who did the same.