BOSTON -- Just before former Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci announced publicly that he had ALS, he told the chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School that he was determined to do something to turn the diagnosis into a positive.
In the last years of his life, he threw himself into efforts to raise money for research, ultimately helping to bring in nearly $2 million.
Cellucci died at his home in Hudson on Saturday from complications of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. He was 65.
"He knew this wasn’t going to help him, but he was determined that he could help others by working together with us," said Dr. Michael Collins, chancellor of the UMass Medical School. "In many ways this was the act of a selfless public servant, right up to the end."
Cellucci spent most of his adult life in politics, starting at the local level in his hometown of Hudson. In more than three decades, he never lost an election. He was a typically moderate New England Republican, fiscally conservative yet middle of the road on many social issues.
He was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket with one-time rival William Weld in 1990 and became acting governor in 1997 when Weld resigned to pursue an ambassadorship. Cellucci was elected governor in his own right in 1998, and in 2001 the Bush administration made him U.S. ambassador to Canada.
He was born in Hudson, a working-class town where his father owned car dealerships. He graduated from Boston College, where he served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, and received a degree from Boston College Law School in 1973.
He was still in school when he was first elected to the Hudson Charter Commission in 1970. He went on to serve on the Hudson Board of Selectmen and in both the state House and Senate.
Cellucci and Weld started as rivals before teaming up to run as a GOP ticket in 1990.
Weld often called Cellucci his "co-governor" and relied on him to work with Democrats and fellow Republicans in the Legislature to help push the administration’s agenda.
After fending off a nasty primary challenge by state Treasurer Joe Malone in the 1998 GOP primary, Cellucci faced Attorney General Scott Harshbarger in the November election, which he won with 51 percent of the vote.
His departure to become an ambassador paved the way for his lieutenant governor, Jane Swift, to become the state’s first female chief executive.
The former governor revealed in January 2011 that he had ALS, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. More than 5,600 people are diagnosed every year.
Soon after, he helped launch the UMass ALS Champion Fund to support ALS research being led by Dr. Robert Brown.
Cellucci is survived by his wife, Jan, their daughters Kate and Anne, and four grandchildren.
His body of former Massachusetts Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci will lie in repose at the State House before a public funeral Mass and private burial.
The State House memorial is scheduled for Thursday. An invitation-only memorial service will be held in the House chamber at 12:30 p.m. A public viewing in the Hall of Flags will run from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Michael Catholic Church in Hudson. His burial will be private.
Kind words from the commonwealth
"Despite the reality of the illness which all of Massachusetts watched Paul battle so bravely, this news comes as a shock given how active and vital Paul was right up to the last months. ... I can’t help but think of the final high standard Paul set in the way he battled ALS. The twinkle was still there, even from his wheelchair. He didn’t withdraw, but rather he began a new chapter as an advocate supporting UMass’s research into the very illness that he faced with courage."
-- Secretary of State John Kerry
"Massachusetts lost a favored son and devoted public servant today. A lawyer, legislator, governor and diplomat, Paul Cellucci was also a kind man and a friend."
-- Gov. Deval Patrick
"Paul Cellucci was simply one of the finest human beings I have ever met. I happened to know him in the realm of politics and government, but anyone who knew him in any other arena would have found the same man: a person of rock-hard integrity, keen intelligence, considerable humor, abundant compassion, and deep devotion to family and country. We are all immensely impoverished by his loss."
-- Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld
"Paul Cellucci was a man of integrity who committed his life to public service and working with members of all parties to get things done for the people he served. ... Paul Cellucci was a voice of reason and bi-partisanship in our Commonwealth, and he will be greatly missed."
-- Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley
"A gentleman in the true sense of the word, he worked across party lines for the betterment of the country and the Commonwealth. I appreciated his pride in our shared ethnic heritage and was thankful for his role in naming October ‘Italian American Heritage Month.’ He was a good friend. ... We will miss him greatly."
-- Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo
"Paul Cellucci was a dedicated and understanding public figure who made a great contribution to his country, commonwealth and community. A staunch and well-regarded Republican at the state and national level, Paul was an adroit partisan, but he was able and willing to be bipartisan when it was appropriate."
-- Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin
-- The Associated Press