UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘Tis Himself

The recent spate of poignant tributes honoring the memory of beloved Congressman John Joseph Moakley, who died May 28, 2001, will ensure that his ideals and deeds will live on in perpetuity. The Federal Courthouse, a law library, professorships as well as the park he played in, as a youth will serve as an ever-present reminder of the man and his principals. These kinds of tributes are not the exclusive domain of politicians; rather they are simply reserved for individuals that for one reason or another deserve to be remembered. For politicians, however there is no greater testament to one’s accomplishments then when their constituents choose to remember them by naming something substantive in their honor. As I considered this premise I was reminded that no such tribute or accolade had been bestowed upon the late George V. Kenneally Jr. “Gigi” as he was affectionately known, savored his role representing the residents of Dorchester in the House as well as the Senate and became one of the most influential and effective legislators the state of Massachusetts has know at the time of his death in 1999, at the age of 69, Gigi was movingly described as the “ideal neighborhood politician.”

George, born in Dorchester in 1929, was the first of the Kenneally brood that would eventually total five, three girls and two boys. Being, the first born boy meant he was rewarded with the heady responsibility of bearing his father’s name. His father, George Sr., was a very popular professional football player at the time and was constantly gracing the sports pages. He was know in the local media as the “Father of Professional Football in New England, ” so for Junior bearing this moniker would come with much expectations. Even the greatest of athletes would have wilted trying to emulate the exploits of George V. Kenneally Sr., so George Jr. decided to forge his own path on a different field, politics.

Kenneally, a fervent and life-long Democrat received his Law Degree from Suffolk University in 1954. He then decided to enter the political arena with a run for Ward 16’s State Representative seat. At this time he was a virtual political novice when he ran headlong into a campaign against then incumbent Representative John Philip McMorrow. Although Kenneally would run with a tenacity and determination that would become his hallmark in future races, this election would serve as a learning experience. He ran on a budget of shoe leather and scoured the ward knocking on every door to ensure that voters could judge his earnestness and merit. The election was an extremely close one, with McMorrow edging Kenneally and retaining his seat. Losing aside, George had through sheer resolve sent a resounding message that he would be a force to contend with in the not so distant future. That future would prove to be the 1956 election, where Kenneally sufficiently seasoned by experience was elected to the House of Representatives.

This victory served as the catalyst to a career on Beacon Hill that would ultimately span three decades. After serving in the House with distinction for two terms, the young legislator made the momentous decision to run for State Senator. He not only ran, but true to form, he was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1963. During his tenure on the Hill, George served as the point man on many key legislative issues that would affect not only Dorchester, but also the entire state.

An example of this was the much-maligned Sales & Meals Tax that was enacted in 1966. Like most taxes it was extremely unpopular, but factoring in the economic climate of the time it would prove quite necessary. The Democrats knew they would need someone well versed in the bill’s legalities and its benefits to speak out as an ambassador. That person was George Kenneally Jr. and speak he did. He toured the state extolling the intrinsic worth of this tax and how the state collectively would benefit from the revenues it would generate. Kenneally was the ideal emissary: he was not only fluent in the practice of law he was well versed in the matters of people. Wherever there was a debate regarding this issue you would find Kenneally there, working to convince even the most ardent of opposition that this tax would prove invaluable to the state. Gigi was more than prophetic in his support of the tax; it continues to this day to supply the state with a generous revenue stream that enables many programs we as residents of the Commonwealth now take for granted

Assessing Kenneally’s local contributions to his constituency is still quite evident a full thirty years after he left elected office. His legacy can be broken down into two categories: the visible such as the Fire Station on Neponset Avenue, Devine Skating rink, Toohig Park and the National Guard armory. And the invisible one that is constituted by the jobs our parents, brothers or sisters were able to get because George recommended them, or the legal help he afforded to all those who sought his counsel. He not only represented the neighborhood, he was the neighborhood and when it called he answered. When the time the New England Patriots, searching for a home for their proposed football stadium began eyeing the Pope John Paul II Park (then the Neponset Drive In); it was George that took the helm of the opposition. It was a contentious fight that may have proved to be a neighborhood breaker. Based on the Patriots current residence in Foxboro it is obvious who was victorious in that skirmish. The crown jewel of his achievements however was a bill he co-sponsored in 1964 with his dear friend and colleague Robert Quinn to establish a new University campus in Boston. The bill called for the creation of University that could provide higher education at a moderate cost to the people of greater Boston. His role in the creation of the University of Massachusetts Boston an “urban university” would prove to be the defining moment of his professional life.

Amazingly, in conjunction with this hectic work schedule George and his wife Carole, whom he married in 1954, managed to raise a family. Their children Denise, Patrice, George Jr., Kevin and Michael have managed to capture the essence of both their parents. They all possess the humanity of their mother and their father’s commitment to public service and its evident in the lives they lead and the careers they chose. One is serving his country in the Armed Forces, one is an officer of the court, two are lawyers and one is a nurse. In 1971, George embarked on a new challenge when he was offered the position of co-counsel to the Massachusetts Senate. This position combined two of his greatest loves, law and politics. He would hold this position until his declining health prompted retirement from public service. Upon his death in December of 1999, a throng of mourners that included such dignitaries as Congressman Moakley, Speakers Finneran and Birmingham all crammed into Saint Ann’s Church to pay homage to George V. Kenneally Jr. for a life well lived. Robert Quinn, former attorney general eulogized his friend by saying, “George, my brother, all that comes back to now is a glorious reflection of all the good that you have done, all the goodness that you have extended, to all of us whom your life has touched…God bless you.”

On July 20, 2001 the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus began construction on its new 331,000 square foot, $75 million dollar Campus Center. This will be the first addition to the Boston campus since 1978, and should be completed by 2003. It is my belief that this structure, in keeping with tradition, be named The George V. Kenneally Jr. Campus Center. As Mr. Kenneally’s nephew and on behalf of our family, I would like to formally request the Speaker of the House Thomas M. Finneran, Representatives Martin Walsh and Jack Hart, Senators Stephen Lynch and Brian Joyce to please make a concerted effort to ensure that this building bears his name. It, as Mr. Quinn so aptly said, would serve as a “glorious reflection.”

By Philip J. Carver

Philip J. Carver is a lifelong Dorchester resident and neighborhood activist.