An emotional DeLeo bids farewell

Long-serving speaker thanks colleagues, reflects on accomplishments 

TWELVE YEARS AFTER he assumed power amid a punishing economic recession, Speaker Robert DeLeo took his leave during the unprecedented upheaval of a pandemic, delivering farewell remarks on Tuesday afternoon to a largely empty House chamber with most members watching remotely via video livestream.  

“While this isn’t a farewell speech that I’ve contemplated, I’m pleased to join you — even if remotely — because this format is a reflection of the way this chamber has adjusted to COVID and accomplished so much this year, and I’m proud of that,” DeLeo said to lawmakers. 

DeLeo’s resignation from his post — and from the House seat he was elected to 30 years ago —  was effective at 6 pm on Tuesday. DeLeo has said he is in conversations about a position at his alma mater, Northeastern University.  

In a speech that ran just over half an hour, he touched on several major legislative achievements of his tenure, but reflected mostly on the personal — his family, his ties to and appreciation for House colleagues, and the ways their work ultimately makes a difference in the lives of state residents.  

He said his late father had expressed hope that his son would one day be House speaker. DeLeo said he regarded that as “wishful thinking,” but he now claims the longest tenure leading the House in state history.  

After citing gun control legislation and health care reform as two leading accomplishments of time as speaker, DeLeo turned to his top deputy, Ron Mariano, who has often been tapped to represent the House in conference committee talks with the Senate. “Both of these nation-leading laws would not have been possible without your wisdom and negotiating skills,” DeLeo said to the Quincy rep seated nearby, who has served as his majority leader.  

He called him a “tremendous friend and wise counselor” and lauded his role in mentoring newer House members. But DeLeo made no reference to Mariano’s anticipated election on Wednesday as the new speaker, publicly staying away from any mention of a leadership handoff that appears to have his full support.  

The 70-year-old Winthrop representative touted the reputation he earned for seeking consensus on big issues. “Throughout my tenure, I strove to listen deeply to my colleagues, keep an open mind, and identify solutions that work for the Commonwealth – from the Berkshires to Boston,” he said.  

DeLeo mentioned his relationship with former state rep Ellen Story of Amherst — “a proud progressive from an academic and rural community” — and spoke of the bond he, as “an urban centrist,” formed with her. “We didn’t seem to have much in common,” said DeLeo. “But we talked and we debated. We became friends.” She became part of his leadership team and DeLeo said their relationship showed him “the incredible value of listening, exchanging ideas, and crafting workable solutions that serve the Commonwealth,” regardless of political philosophy.   

He gave shoutouts to several members of his leadership team for their work on issues ranging from anti-discrimination laws for transgender residents, to economic development, criminal justice reform, and education 

DeLeo, known as a sure-gloved infielder on his Boston Latin School baseball team, sprinkled baseball references throughout his remarks. He recalled sitting in the House chamber the evening before being elected speaker in 2009 and thinking of it in the same way he did some of the hallowed big-league ballparks he enjoys visiting. He reflected on talking about the Red Sox with House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz — “although you’ll never know as much about baseball as me,” he said to the North End rep. And he asked 38-year-old state Sen. Joe Boncore of Winthrop, who was in the chamber for his speech, to stop reminding him that he was his Little League coach.  

Robert DeLeo, middle row, third from right, a member of the class of 1967, with his Boston Latin School baseball teammates.

DeLeo took a few stabs at humor that didn’t land, a fact he tried to use, like the best stand-up artists, to rescue the moment. Extolling the value of seeing other members’ districts, he said one important lesson he learned was you don’t need to wear a suit and tie when visiting a farm. “You can laugh once in a while,” he cracked when the line fell flat.  

He thanked his family for sticking with him through “good and bad times.” He said his granddaughter Autumn, who lives across the street from him in Winthrop, is looking forward to having more time to spend with her “Pappa.”  

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

DeLeo said he’s received lots of phone calls in recent days in anticipation of his departure. He said an aide put one through to him today. Without giving details, he said it was from a woman who wanted to let him know how actions he had taken as speaker had been of great help with something she had been facing. “On the phone she started to weep somewhat,” he said. 

“Those calls have taught me what this job is all about,” he said, himself becoming emotional. “And what this job is all about, very simply, is helping people. And since the day I walked in here, and now the day that I am leaving here, that’s always what I believed in, and the only thing I really most importantly strived to do.”