News of former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino’s battle with cancer prompted an outpouring of support today from everyone from the current mayor to parishioners at a Roxbury church and spectators at the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who took over the reins from Menino in January, said he had spoken with Menino and was “very encouraged by his upbeat spirit.”
He called Menino a “giant in the city” and said, “I just think that he needs to focus on his family, and the people of Boston need to pray for him and be there for him if he needs anything.”
At the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, a light-hearted gathering of politicos, state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, the event’s host, dedicated the event to Menino and his recovery.
“Many of us woke up today and our hearts were heavy upon learning of the mayor’s illness. But you know what? That’s not what Tom Menino wants. He doesn’t want to turn on the TV and see our long faces,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in the power of laughter and light.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson said after the event that he knows Menino is a strong-willed fighter.
“I know that he is too strong and too stubborn to be overcome by this,” Jackson said. “It’s a battle. He has fought many battles. He’s won most of them.”
At Roxbury Presbyterian Church this morning, the Rev. Liz Walker said during prayers, “A good friend of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, a good friend of the community, is in need of our prayers. “Mayor Menino is fighting for his life.”
Murmurs went through the congregation, which Menino had visited two weeks earlier for the installation of Walker, a former TV news anchor, as pastor.
Walker said Menino “has always been and will always be a man of the people.”
“I think that’s why he stole my heart,” she said. “Because you see so many political figures every once in a while, but Mayor Menino was everywhere, it was not a once in a while thing. And that is especially important in a community that has so many needs.”
“I just want him to know that we [the religious community] are here for him, because he was always here for us,” she said.
After the church service, Robby Thomas, president of the Boston Area Church League, said the former mayor was instrumental in helping his organization develop its youth programs.
“He is the one who gave us the opportunity to use the Parks and Recreation Department, and to use the parks in the city,” Thomas said. “We’re praying for him. We want to wish him well, and a speedy recovery.”
Behind the counter of Grove Hall Convenience on Blue Hill Avenue, Lucy Arroyo, 63, who has worked there for about 40 years, said she remembered what the area looked like before the Grove Hall Mecca shopping center opened across the street.
“He wanted to fix Grove Hall, to make it look better, because at that time, the area was ugly around here,” she said. “Now it’s a different place. It’s very different now.”
Menino was a strong advocate for the center, which opened in 1999, and the 5,000 affordable housing units that came with it.
“For me, he was a good mayor of Boston. For me, the best one. I never forget his name,” Arroyo said.
Next door at Edward’s Barber Shop, Brenda Maria Mena, 27, said she met Menino once, when she won an art contest as a 9-year-old student at the Haley Elementary in Roslindale.
Mena, who lives in Hyde Park, did not know what to say when she heard the man who had been in the mayor’s office for the vast majority of her life was is battling cancer.
“He’s such a prominent figure for Boston,” said Mena, who lives in Hyde Park. “I hope he recovers, and that his family stays strong, and that he stays strong.”
Karen Hanson, 48, of West Roxbury who was preparing to watch the parade, said she “just hopes he’s well and he has the best of health.”
“He’s been mayor for most of my adult life. I don’t know any mayor other than him,” he said.
Charlene Moccio, 46, of South Boston said Menino had made it through cancer before and she hoped he could fight it off again this time.
“I have met him personally; he is an awesome guy,” she said. “I loved him right from the start. I voted for him every time.”
Asked what she would say to the former mayor if she could see him now, Moccio said, “Tom, stay strong. Boston loves you.”