LYNN—Hundreds of state legislators and other politicians, relatives, and residents of Lynn, the city where Thomas W. McGee lived most of his 88 years, filled St. Mary’s Church this morning to remember the state’s longest-serving speaker of the House.
“He wanted to help the people of Lynn more than anything else,” said his daughter, Colleen McGee Kavanaugh. “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 and a living wage, a decent roof over our heads, and the chance for a little bit better life for our children.”
McGee died Dec. 21 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and was buried after a private funeral. At today’s memorial Mass, his four children spoke about the father they remember: a kid who grew up in Lynn, joined the Marines, and entered politics, never forgetting the city he loved.
“He visited the Oval Office, traveled on Air Force One, met with dignitaries, including President Carter and Pope John Paul II,” said his son, state Senator Thomas M. McGee. “But the next morning, he’d be down at Bill’s Lunch, having coffee with a constituent in need.”
A section of pews in the front of the church was reserved for legislators, and the area was packed. Dignitaries included US Representatives Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, former state Senate President William M. Bulger, state Auditor Suzanne Bump, former state Auditor Joseph DeNucci and state Treasurer Steve Grossman.
Some former House speakers attended, including Thomas M. Finneran, David M. Bartley, Robert Quinn, and Charles Flaherty.
McGee grew up in Lynn and joined the Marine Corps when he was 17—and 5-foot-6 and 112 pounds, said Thomas M. McGee. He was eventually sent to the South Pacific where he survived Iwo Jima and other battles.
The Marine Corps became a second family to him, Kavanaugh said.
“When other kids were learning the ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider,’ we were trying to figure out where the heck ‘The Halls of Montezuma,’ or the ‘shores of Tripoli’ were, she said to laughter, referring to lines from the official Marine Corps hymn.
After the war, McGee returned to Massachusetts and graduated from Boston University.
He was elected to the Lynn City Council and eventually served 14 terms as a state representative, including a decade as speaker of the House.
McGee, his son, said he was never more proud of his father than when he remained six more years in the House after he was replaced as speaker.