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Editorial: Paul Cellucci - an exemplary public servant

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2000 file photo, Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci addresses members of the media during a news conference at the Statehouse in Boston. Former Massachusetts Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci has died of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was 65. His death was announced Saturday, June 8, 2013 on behalf of his family by Dr. Michael F. Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where Cellucci was involved in raising funds for ALS research.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2000 file photo, Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci addresses members of the media during a news conference at the Statehouse in Boston. Former Massachusetts Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci has died of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was 65. His death was announced Saturday, June 8, 2013 on behalf of his family by Dr. Michael F. Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where Cellucci was involved in raising funds for ALS research. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Purchase photo reprints »

For 16 years, the late Paul Cellucci played a key role in governing this state, first as a lieutenant governor who had uncommon influence on the governor at the time, William Weld, and then as a governor who made a mark in his own right.

Cellucci, 65, died at his Hudson home Saturday after living with Lou Gehrig’s disease for five years. In both his personal and political life he was a force to be reckoned with and a role model on many levels.

His legacy is one of constructive bipartisanship, as a politician who stayed true to his ideals, even if those ideals were not popular with his party or his main supporters.

A fiscal conservative and strong anti-tax politician, he also held socially progressive positions on contemporary issues. He was successful in passing a ban on assault weapons, he supported abortion rights and fought for protections for victims of domestic violence.

He broke barriers for women when he named Jane M. Swift as his second in command, which led to her becoming the state’s first female governor when he left in 2001 to be ambassador to Canada. He also named Margaret H. Marshall as the first female chief justice on the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Cellucci also supported the death penalty, tax cuts, welfare reform and tough-on-crime measures.

The relationship between Cellucci and Weld was legendary. They joined forces in 1990 after being rivals in the Republican primary for governor. Their decision to run together as a team was novel in a state where governor and lieutenant governor candidates ran separately in primaries.

But their collaboration proved a powerful force — and allowed them to break a Democratic stronghold on the state. Their mild brand of Republicanism led scores of Democrats to defect — many for the first time in their lives — to vote Republican rather than for the controversial Democratic candidate John Silber.

Weld has said that Cellucci’s counsel while he was governor left an imprint on the Weld administration, and also set him up to enter the governor’s office in an unusually smooth transition when Weld moved on.

And yet, the two men couldn’t have been more different in background and personal style.

Weld was considered an elite son of privilege, while Cellucci was born and raised in working-class Hudson, where he worked in his father’s car dealership. He was first elected to serve on a charter reform commission in Hudson when he was 21. He worked his way up through the political ranks over more than 25 years before he ran for governor. He was a selectman in Hudson, became a state representative and then state senator before deciding to run for the governor’s office.

Yet he never severed hometown roots even when political roles brought him greater fame.

On a personal level, the way Cellucci dealt with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable, degenerative neurological disease, was an inspiration to those around him. He faced his deteriorating condition with good spirit and continued his public service, recently teaming up with Weld for a fundraising campaign for ALS research.

According to the Boston Globe’s obituary, Cellucci’s grandchildren called his wheelchair “command central” and were known to climb aboard to watch television with him.

Paul Cellucci gave politicians a good name. He had no time for rancor. He rose above partisanship and party differences to engage in meaningful discussions and get things done.

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