Bob Quinn: One of Dorchester’s finest

We lost a wonderful neighbor last Sunday. The sad news came that Bob Quinn had gone into cardiac arrest at his Cape Cod retreat and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. He was 85 years old, and what a life he had lived — one full of great accomplishments in public service, community support, and family life.

His life story is almost legendary. The youngest child in an Irish-Catholic family, he grew up on Auckland Street , just steps from his parish church of St. William, and played football at BC High. In college at BC, he was on the squad when he fell ill and had to leave school when diagnosed with turberculosis. He spent more than two years in quarantine at the Mattapan Chronic Disease hospital on River Street near Lower Mills.

A survivor, he returned to school, took his BC degree and entered Harvard Law School. In 1957 he was elected a state representative and rose to become Speaker of the Massachusetts House. He was state attorney general for five years before coming in second in a 1974 gubernatorial primary to former Brookline Rep. Michael Dukakis.

Bob Quinn was keenly interested in education for young people, and as House speaker he had joined with Dorchester State Sen. George ‘Gigi’ Kenneally to craft the law that established the Dorchester campus of UMass Boston in his district at Columbia Point. He is memorialized on campus with his name on the Quinn building. It was my great honor to be associated with him when, in 1987, I was the first recipient of the university’s Robert H. Quinn Award for distinguished public service.

Early this month, several days before Marty Walsh was to be inaugurated as mayor, Bob visited me at my Columbia Point office. Bob’s fondness for his home neighborhood was beyond question. Like many who left for a time, Bob and his bride Claudina returned to live on Auckland Street in recent years. His daily routine included a walk to the Savin Hill station to catch a Red Line train to his law office near Beacon Hill. He took a keen interest in local affairs and could be counted on to support a wide range of local causes.

Bob told me he was delighted to be planning to be at Boston College for the swearing-in of the new mayor. After all, Marty was another Dot guy, and he served in the same House district that had elected Bob almost 60 years ago. Bob did get back to BC’s Conte Forum on Jan. 6 to see his successor in that old House district take the oath of office.

Always a delightful storyteller, Bob told me that Silvio Conte— the congressman for whom the BC arena is named— had been his teammate on the Boston College football team back in the day. He related that when he was in the TB hospital, his old friend Silvio had taken up a team collection to buy him a bathrobe and slippers while he convalesced. Bob said he was always grateful – although he never could quite understand why his old friend had become a Republican!

Requiescat in pace, Bob Quinn, OFD: A good and decent man, now gone on ahead of us.

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