Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick: an improbable life

by Tom Gallagher

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My friend Brian Wright O'Connor of Boston wrote a profile of the departing Massachusetts two-term governor Deval Patrick, the state's first African-American governor. Patrick was a poor kid from Chicago raised by a single mother in his grandparents' home who landed in Boston to attend the prestigious Milton Academy on a full scholarship.

O'Connor writes:

When [Patrick] did walk off campus, "I was invariably stopped by the Milton police. Invariably," he repeated, his voice trailing off. "All those issues are back in the news, but they haven't gone away in people's lives." Years later, Patrick would address racial profiling during a stint as head of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and the issue would recur time and again throughout his term in office as the Bay State's first African American governor.

In some ways a Golden Child of affirmative action -- in the best sense of the phrase before it became a wedge issue and the subject of bitter attacks -- Patrick rose higher and faster and achieved more than his peers, both black and white, because hard work, discipline and intelligence met more opportunity than was available among the gangs on Wabash Avenue.

Offering advice to the young, Patrick often quotes his grandmother: "Hope for the best and work for it." But he had something else -- a deeply held belief in human dignity, which translated into empathy; and an unusual ability to live the "double veil," without rancor, described by W.E.B. DuBois in Souls of Black Folk as the legacy of living in two worlds, one black, one white.

You can read the whole essay here.

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