They came from all walks of life Saturday to bid farewell to one of Lynn’s greatest political figures, Thomas W. McGee, the longest-serving speaker of the House in state history.
A large crowd – including many of the constituents Mr. McGee served so well on the Lynn City Council and in the House of Representatives – packed St. Mary’s Church to pay tribute to a man who loved his hometown of Lynn.
Ted Grant, president of Lynn Business Partnership, Agganis Foundation, and Grant Communications, summed up Mr. McGee’s impact in this community and the legendary figure he became in his career.
“Tom McGee is on Lynn’s Mount Rushmore,” said Grant, who attended the Mass. “Today was a fitting farewell.”
There was sadness but there was humor during the impressive ceremony led by the Rev. Michael Steele, a relative to the McGee family. Shawn McGee said it was fitting that “we are here in this church where I came for Sunday Mass growing up with my Mom and Dad alongside Tommy, Colleen, and Michael.”
He recalled the quick trips from the McGee family residence to the church. “Dad had it nailed down to a science. We only lived about a mile away and if we hit every light we were there in 90 seconds or less, parked the car, and be seated for Mass in record time.”
Michael McGee said he initially wasn’t going to speak at the ceremony that paid tribute to his father.
“I want to thank everyone for showing up – this is really a truly amazing tribute to my dad,” said McGee, who shared a warm and loving story about his father driving him to Bobby Orr’s hockey school in Canada when he was nine years old.
“My mother said to me, ‘I thought we were flying last night, Michael. Dad was going 110 (mph) the whole way.”
Colleen McGee Kavanaugh delivered the welcoming remarks on behalf of the McGee family, thanking Father Steele for his participation in the liturgy and Father Flynn, pastor of St. Mary’s, “for his kindness to our family these past few weeks.”
“And so it fitting that we return to St. Mary’s where his faith was forged,” said Kavanaugh. “The values that he learned in this church as a young boy informed the rest of his life. Long before terms like social justice were used to describe faith in action, my father understood that each of us has a unique obligation to one another.”
Kavanaugh said her father wanted to help the people of Lynn more than anything else. “He watched his mother labor in the shoe factories of this city and emerge as a union organizer; understanding that we all strive for the same thing – a good job with a living wage, a decent roof over our heads and the chance for a little better life for our children.”
Quoting the late Senator Edward Kennedy in the eulogy for his brother Robert, Kavanaugh told the assemblage, “My father should be remembered as a good and decent man and so I want to thank you for joining us today in remembering.
State Sen. Tom McGee recalled proudly how his father, “as a 5-foot-6, 112-pound 17-year-old joined the Marines and as a member of the Fourth Division he participated in four major engagements in 1944. He was part of the invasion of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history.”
Lynn’s state senator said his father enjoyed helping people and that was his inspiration for entering public service.
“It is true that for the better part of a decade my dad was one of the most powerful leaders in Massachusetts, but he never lost sight of why he went into public service – to help people. He visited the Oval Office, traveled on Air Force One and met with dignitaries including President Carter and Pope John Paul II. But the next morning he’d be down at Bill’s Lunch having coffee and sharing conversations with a constituent in need.
“He liked to say I’m just a kid from West Lynn and whether he was meeting with national leaders or having coffee at Bill’s Lunch he never forgot who he was and where he came from.”
McGee spoke about his father’s legacy.
“What should his legacy be? Well, he always said if I can go to bed knowing I helped one person today then it has been a good day. That’s how he lived every day and wouldn’t we all be better if that was our goal: to see someone in need and reach out to make a difference. What a legacy to have. A kid from West Lynn who reached the top and never forgot who he was., what he believed in, and where he came from.”
Senator McGee’s son, Thomas, said before the ceremony, “My grandfather was a very nice man. My father told me a bunch of stories about him and that he helped a lot of people and that he was very giving to the Lynn community. I’m glad to be named after him. I will carry on his name.”