Former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, who died Saturday at the age of 65 following a long battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease, was the kind of Republican politician that used to be common in New England but is an increasing rarity today in the region and essentially extinct elsewhere. Fiscally conservative and socially moderate, Mr. Cellucci, along with his longtime ally former Governor William Weld, were not prisoners of ideology and were willing to work with the Democrats who dominate the Legislature.
The combination of the cerebral, iconoclastic Governor Weld and Lieutenant Governor Cellucci, a former Hudson Selectman with well-honed political skills, made for a formidable pairing of opposites. Mr. Weld referred to Mr. Cellucci as his co-governor, and indeed he had a higher profile and more responsibilities than the traditional lieutenant governor. When Governor Weld resigned in 1997 to became ambassador to Mexico (his appointment by President Bill Clinton was successfully blocked by right-wing Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina,) Mr. Cellucci eased into the top office and was elected in his own right in 1998.
Mr. Cellucci's choice of running mate that year was former state Senator Jane Swift, a North Adams native who now resides in Williamstown. When Mr. Cellucci was appointed U.S. ambassador to Canada in 2001 by President George W. Bush, Ms. Smith became acting governor and the first woman to serve as the state's chief executive. Mr. Cellucci made Justice Margaret H. Marshall the first female chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the decision she wrote in 2003 legalizing gay marriage in the state was instrumental in the ongoing march to equal rights for gays across the nation.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ambassador Cellucci helped coordinate Canada's successful effort to bring than 200 American planes into Canadian airports and to find accommodations for stranded passengers, according to former Bush Chief of State Andrew Card in The Boston Globe. Mr. Cellucci later toured the country to thank Canadians for their support following the attacks.
Mr. Cellucci left the ambassadorship in 2005 to work for a Boston law firm. Two years ago, he acknowledged that he had been fighting the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, since 2006. As the disease advanced, he continued to devote himself to the Champion Fund, which he helped create at the UMass Medical School in Worcester to finance research into ALS. The fund has raised $1.7 million, contributing considerably to the fight against a debilitating disease. That fight will be one of the many aspects of Governor Cellucci's legacy.