Joe DeNucci, Man of Unquestioned Courage

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Joe DeNucci has retired from public life after a 10-year run in the Massachusetts House and six consecutive, four-year terms as State Auditor.

That's a lot of time "in the building," as the folks who labor in Mr. Bulfinch's masterpiece like to describe their workplace.

But as DeNucci said his farewells during a retirement celebration in the House chamber on Friday, January 21, it was clear that he had not overstayed his welcome, that he leaves the stage with people wanting more.

Frank Bellotti, the former Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General of the Commonwealth who served as master of ceremonies at the event, proclaimed, "This is not just the passing of an era. It's the passing of one of the last of the good guys, one of the last of the giants."

I don't know if he's one of the last, but DeNucci is certainly a good guy -- no, a great guy!

And if you are measuring heart, most of us are indeed pygmies compared to him.

If you think, though, that DeNucci owed his success in politics to his all-around "largeness," you'd be only partly right, in my opinion.

To "get" DeNucci, you have to credit his physical courage, too: People were always drawn to him because, as a former professional boxer, his courage was tested repeatedly in the ring. And he always passed the test.

When DeNucci was a 16-year-old high school junior in Newton, he was already a Golden Gloves champion. The next year he turned pro.

His boxing career stretched improbably to the age of 34, and he was consistently ranked among the top middleweights in the world during that long span. He valiantly fought Emile Griffiths, one of the greatest middleweights of all time, twice for the championship, but lost.

Never one to swagger or to brag of his exploits, DeNucci nevertheless has an umistakable presence, an easy confidence that emanated from the elemental fact that he voluntarily risked his life on a number of occasions, and lived to tell of it!

It's a truth that set him apart from most people. And in his "apart-ness," we were instinctively drawn to him.

Of course, when we approached DeNucci, he showered his love and joy upon us; he treated us as his equals, which only raised him higher in our eyes. The champ likes me, he really likes me!

One often hears of the "rough and tumble of politics," of "election battles," of "bitter fights" between political enemies, etc.

But watching DeNucci at the State House or on the street, you'd think he was strolling a beach, not struggling through a battlefield. Maybe he could move like that because he knows what real rough and tumble is.

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