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."