HUDSON (CBS/AP) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci has died at his Hudson home from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a statement from UMass Medical School.
He was 65.
The 69th governor of Massachusetts and former U.S. Ambassador to Canada announced in January 2011 that he had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon after that announcement, he joined UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins, M.D., and Robert H. Brown Jr., M.D., a physician-researcher at the medical school, in launching the UMass ALS Champion Fund, which supports ALS research in Brown’s laboratory.
The campaign raised nearly $2 million under the former governor’s leadership, UMass reported.
Cellucci was considered a moderate cast in the mold of New England Republicans — fiscally conservative yet middle of the road on many social issues. In three decades in politics, first at the local level, he never lost an election.
He was elected lieutenant governor in 1990 and became acting governor in 1997 when his predecessor, William Weld, resigned to pursue an ambassadorship. Cellucci won election as governor in his own right in 1998.
Cellucci’s personality was much more reserved than Weld’s, but he played a much larger role than a typical lieutenant governor and was credited with guiding Weld, a former federal prosecutor and political neophyte, through the political process during their 1990 campaign. Weld often called Cellucci his “co-governor.”
The two were credited with easing a state fiscal crisis and they easily won re-election in 1994.
After fending off a nasty primary challenge by state Treasurer Joe Malone in the 1998 GOP primary, Cellucci faced Attorney General Scott Harshbarger in the November election, which he won with 51 percent of the vote.
Cellucci was nominated for the Canada ambassadorship by the Bush administration in February 2001 after a long association with the Bush family. His departure paved the way for his lieutenant governor, Jane Swift, to be named acting governor and become the state’s first women chief executive.
“Paul’s long record of public service was consistently defined by grace, integrity and common sense, qualities that are all too scarce in modern politics,” Swift said in a statement Saturday.
Massachusetts politicians on both sides of the aisle joined Swift in praising the former governor.
“(My wife) Angela and I are mourning the loss of a true gentleman, a great governor, and a wonderful friend,” Democratic Boston Mayor Tom Menino said of Cellucci. “Our City and our Commonwealth will miss him deeply and his type – a leader who wanted to help people.
“He was one of the very first people to reach out after I became mayor to offer a hand, and he did that over and over again. I will never forget what Governor Cellucci meant to Boston and to me.”
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez said the Hudson native had played a role as mentor in his political career.
“My family and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Paul Cellucci,” Gomez said. “Ambassador Cellucci served our nation as a great governor of Massachusetts and as U.S. ambassador to Canada. I will always be grateful to him for his kind words of support for me, and will forever appreciate his guidance and wisdom. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved wife, Jan, and with the entire Cellucci family.”
House Speaker Robert Deleo, D-Winthrop, said the former governor was a bridge building in Bay State politics.
“I mourn the loss of Governor Cellucci. A gentleman in the true sense of the word, he worked across party lines for the betterment of the country and the Commonwealth,” Deleo said. ” He was a good friend. He understood and respected the Legislature, his service in which informed and aided him as he presided as lieutenant governor and governor. We will miss him greatly.”
Cellucci was a longtime friend of former President George H.W. Bush, having spearheaded his presidential campaigns in Massachusetts. Cellucci was one of the first GOP governors to stoke President George W. Bush’s presidential ambitions, and he helped get a majority of the state executives behind Bush, even backing the then-Texas governor when U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona overwhelmingly won the state’s GOP primary.
Cellucci was approached by Bush’s team for a possible Cabinet post, but the governor was said to be cool to the idea. Cellucci was also a close friend of White House chief of staff Andrew Card, a former Massachusetts legislator.
Cellucci, known as a movie buff, was born in Hudson, a working-class town where his father owned car dealerships. He graduated from Boston College, where he served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and received a degree from Boston College Law School in 1973.
His political career began in 1970, while he was still in law school, when he was elected to the Hudson Charter Commission. He served on the Hudson Board of Selectmen from 1971 to 1977, and in the state House of Representatives from 1976 to 1984. Cellucci was elected to the state Senate in 1984.
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