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PHOTOS: Hundreds Attend Kevin White's Funeral in the Back Bay

Dignitaries and regular Bostonians fill Saint Cecilia’s Church on Belvidere Street to honor the former Boston mayor.

Kevin White was not the type of mayor to build a highway through his city.

There’s a reason why Interstate 95 runs in a straight line from Florida to Canton, takes a bend around Boston, and continues straight again at Peabody, Congressman Barney Frank told hundreds of people packed into in the Back Bay for White’s funeral service.

White was a pioneer who said no to the federal funds, Frank said. He was a compassionate leader and a visionary with unconventional ideas, that worked, like using a James Brown concert at the Garden to avoid riots the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 

As close friend and former state treasurer Robert Q. Crane put it:

“If you knew him, no explanation is necessary. If you didn’t have that privilege, no explanation is possible.”

White, Boston’s mayor for 16 years from 1968 to 1984, died Friday night surrounded by his family. He was 82. White grew up in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury and may be best known for guiding Boston through the turbulent years of the busing crisis

Hundreds of people, many in that second category, gathered Wednesday morning to pay their respects to a man who shaped the city as we know it today. Following a wake at the Parkman House Tuesday afternoon, a somber funeral procession wound through Beacon Hill, past White's Mount Vernon Street home, to St. Cecilia’s. Firefighters hung a huge American flag over Belvidere Street and bagpipers played as the procession entered the church for a final public farewell. 

During the mass Mayor Thomas Menino and Frank gave a tribute to his leadership, his grown children performed readings, and his 10 grandchildren brought forth the communion. Crane and White's son Mark Hagen White spoke final words of remembrance.

Growing up with White as a father was chaotic, unexpected and fun, said his son Mark said.

He remembered one Christmas morning, when he was about 13. The lights were on, the fireplace was roaring, and the gifts were half opened when his father ushered everybody outside.

“There, standing on the sidewalk was a horse, with a red bow around its neck,” Mark said.

Picture White’s wife Katherine and five kids, standing outside in their pajamas, laughing and excited about their new present.

“I stole a glace at both the horse – and my mother,” Mark said. Both wore the same look of shock that became a familiar reaction for many Boston residents who lived through White’s leadership.

“He turned those crazy ideas into a reality,” Mark said. “He gave us a horse. And he gave Boston a grander stature."

Chris Helms (Editor) February 01, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I didn't realize until today that I have Mayor White to thank for I-95 not destroying the neighborhood I so happily live in today (JP). (Frank Salvucci and hundreds of others, too, of course.)
RICHARD Heath February 02, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Richard Heath Chris, I spent a dozen years ( 1977 -1989) involved w the SWC Project, Not many people are around now who were. but it was a pivotal moment in our lives. It changed our lives and the face of JP. The credit goes really to Gov Frank Sargent but in collaboration with Mayor White ( who ran against Sargent in 1970. What many people today cannot fathom -because they were not alive or were gradeschoolers is just how hard he times were in Boston in the 1970's but how many of us just made so much progress to change the city. The Orange Line and the SW Park were one of our greatest achievements. My other proudest achievement was Franklin Park. We are still in the trenches but i find it very difficult to maintain credibility given the very high feelings of entitlement in our society today. The community today couldn't organize to make lunch. They bicker too much in tribal cliques. But I'm 66 and not many on the Council are interested in old guard opinions. But they wouldn't recognize JP of 40 years ago when i first moved here, Thanks for being appreciative,
RICHARD Heath February 02, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Richard Heath Chris: the story and photos of the service are Excellent Thanks very much to the writer and photographers.
Cate Lecuyer (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Thanks Richard. As someone who never met Mayor White, listening to the things people have said about him have been inspiring, and also a great local history lesson. I really wish I could have known him.
John Sullivan February 02, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Chris -- Here's an interesting overview of what might have been, the Southwest Expressway: http://www.bostonroads.com/roads/southwest/
Chris Helms (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Thanks, John. Fascinating. I'd never heard of the plan to sink the highway 10 feet with the idea that building on the "air rights" would somehow make it okay.

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