As America’s Bicentennial celebration reached its height in the summer of 1976, millions of tourists in Boston cheered the tall ships as they circled the harbor. The newly opened Faneuil Hall Marketplace drew crowds to a festival atmosphere. The Boston Pops lilted and soared in a nationally televised Fourth of July concert. And an ebullient Mayor Kevin Hagan White ’52 strolled past City Hall in a parade, his arm around the Queen of England.
There was no bigger moment for the City of Boston—or for its mayor. “Getting the Queen here, that was really Kevin,” says Michael B. Keating ’62, counsel to the city’s Bicentennial organizing committee and today a partner at Foley Hoag. “He was never limited in his own mind by what he could do for the city.”
White was mayor for 16 tumultuous years, from 1968 through 1983, a time of profound change that saw Boston struggle with racial conflict and then shed its image as a provincial backwater to become a modern city.
He became a giant among American mayors, laying the groundwork to run for president in 1976. But any national ambitions were doomed in part by the violent protests over a 1974 federal court order to desegregate Boston’s schools. Later, his record was tainted by a federal investigation into his administration and fund-raising activities, though he was never charged with a crime.
When White died on Jan. 27, 2012, at the age of 82, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, city and state leaders looked anew at his legacy. “He held the city together,” says Paul S. Grogan ’72, a former speechwriter and aide to White and now president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “He planted the seeds for what would become the Boston Renaissance.”