BOSTON — Former Mayor Kevin White was remembered Wednesday as a towering political presence who guided a stunning rebirth of Boston's downtown while also struggling to mend the deep rifts that court-ordered busing left in the city's neighborhoods.
White's public funeral Mass drew an overflow crowd to St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church — a mix of the city's wealthy and powerful but also ordinary citizens like Sally Whittaker, 58, of South Boston, who was drawn to the funeral because she remembered Boston as a once-decaying city and wanted to show gratitude to White for making it "the vibrant place it is today."
White, who served four terms from 1968 to 1984, died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 82.
Though his illness kept him largely out of public view in recent years, the city's current mayor, Thomas Menino, said it was still hard to imagine the city without him.
"He made us proud to be Bostonians," Menino said in his tribute. "He set a standard many of us are still trying to live up to."
Speakers who shared their memories of White recalled him as a complex figure, creative, keen-witted and politically astute, yet at times also brooding and detached — so much so that he was once dubbed a loner in love with the city.
In his homily, the Rev. J. Donald Monan said White was responsible for many of the gleaming office towers that now stand and for progress in the city's neighborhoods. But Monan also noted that White's tenure was one of "high elation and inevitable disappointments."
The school busing crisis that began with a federal court integration order in 1974 led to violent protests and divided neighborhoods. It also weighed heavily on the mayor.
"We saw riots, anger and frustration through his eyes," said White's son, Mark, in his eulogy Wednesday.
Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Sen. John Kerry were among a veritable who's who of Massachusetts politicians at the funeral.