‘A titan’: Mass. pols pay tribute to Democratic activist John Walsh, dead at 65

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Bay State political leaders have paid tribute to veteran Democratic operative John Walsh, who died Monday, aged 65.

Walsh, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this year, died in hospice care, according to published reports. He helped engineer former Gov. Deval Patrick’s historic election in 2006, and is credited with reinventing politics in Massachusetts.

Walsh’s death was first reported by the Boston Globe.

“Massachusetts owes John Walsh an enormous debt of gratitude for his lifetime of service. John was one of the truly good people. He was brilliant while staying relentlessly humble, optimistic, inclusive, and empathetic to all,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a post to X, formerly Twitter.

Walsh’s “legacy lives on through the countless people he mentored and who remain engaged in civic life trying to make this state and this country a better place. My thoughts and prayers go to John’s family and to all who count him as a friend and mentor,” Healey continued.

Patrick wrote that Walsh’s “memory lives forever in the legions of us he inspired, taught and cared about.”

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., for whom Walsh served as chief of staff, said in a statement that the veteran operative “was a visionary who saw talent in everyone, and his genius was hands-on. We see it in the miles of knocked doors, hands he shook, coffee meetings he took, and minds he opened.

“He didn’t just see ways to change the world; he dedicated his life to changing it himself. He made time for everyone, shared selflessly of his wisdom and experience, and redefined leadership for Massachusetts candidates. John’s legacy will be in the young people he mentored and brought into public service, and the livable future they are fighting for every day,” Markey continued.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-7th District, said Walsh “believed unshakably in the possibility of progress and gave generously of his time, his wisdom, and his joy.”

When one was “embarking on something others deemed impossible or improbable, John Walsh was the person you wanted by your side,” Pressley said. ” … He was a titan of Massachusetts politics but, more than that, he was a dear friend, a trusted mentor, and a constant presence for so many of us. John was an organizer in the truest sense of the term.

“His belief in the power of personal connection was indefatigable, and it drove transformational change not only in Massachusetts, but across the country,” Pressley continued. “The legacy of his kindness, his wit, and his commitment to positive change will live on in the generations of staffers, volunteers, and elected officials who had the good fortune to know John and be inspired by him. My prayers are with his wife Donna, his son Coleman, his sister Patti, and with all those who loved him and were loved by him.”

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-2nd District, called Walsh “a brilliant political strategist with a heart of gold. Lisa and I send our love to his wife Donna, his son Coleman and their extended family during this difficult time.”

Walsh, “the son of Irish immigrants … became one of the most influential figures in Mass politics, ascending to Chairman of the [state] Democratic Party,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-1st District, posted to X. “His spirit of activism changed our Commonwealth for the better. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”

A onetime Abington selectman and insurance salesman who had been involved in campaigns for years, Walsh was a key architect of Patrick’s successful 2006 run for governor, State House News Service reported.

Patrick, a mostly-unknown lawyer from Milton, scored a stunning win over two longer-established Democrats and a well-financed Republican officeholder with Walsh aboard as his campaign manager, according to State House News Service.

Walsh earned cult hero status among many of the party faithful for having awoken the party’s grassroots to boot Republicans from the governorship after 16 years.

Walsh served as chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party from 2007 to 2013, and helmed Markey’s 2020 reelection, according to State House News Service.

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