By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
BROOKLINE – The longest serving governor in Massachusetts history, Michael S. Dukakis is known for many accomplishments over his lifetime. He has had many roles, including athlete, soldier, lawyer, local politician, governor, 1988 Democratic nominee for President, distinguished professor of political science at Northeastern University, visiting professor at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, husband, father, grandfather, son, mentor, and friend.
Retired but still busy
He considers himself to be a progressive guy, politically, and has always been bothered by any evidence of injustice and would try his best to do something about it. Although at age 88 he is formally “retired,” he is very busy working on several non-profit organization boards and also enjoys some free time to read for leisure — something he has not been able to do for a very long time.
“I love reading about our state’s history and I am currently engrossed in David McCullough’s book about John Adams and his wife Abigail. It is terrific,” said Dukakis. He could not say enough about his love for teaching at Northeastern for two decades and the co-op program that the school participates in. It gave him the opportunity to connect with young people and get them placed in public service sector jobs. He would teach there for nine months and then go out to UCLA in California for three months to teach there.
“The Northeastern program gives students the ability to join both academics with work out in the field. I was able to work with these talented students, many of whom I am still in touch with. Two of my former students are members of Congress,” said Dukakis proudly.
An athletic youth
People might be very surprised to learn that Dukakis ran the Boston Marathon in 1951 at the age of seventeen. He was very athletic in high school in Brookline and played basketball, was the captain of the tennis team and was a cross country runner.
“The day after the marathon, our tennis team had their first match. I couldn’t move other than laterally, and I believe that, while Brookline won the match 8-1, the single loss was mine. It took me about a week to recover,” said Dukakis.
Political start in Brookline
The 1950s were an interesting time, politically, he explained. Dukakis went off to college at Swarthmore. He then enlisted in the U.S Army and spent sixteen months in Korea. Upon returning, he went to law school at Harvard. He also got elected as a town meeting member in his native Brookline, where he still lives.
“One very inspiring figure at that time, politically, was Jack Kennedy, although I did not get the chance to meet him even though he was from Brookline,” Dukakis recalled. “I was very close to Ted Kennedy when he was in the Senate, and I was governor. He was an extremely impressive guy and I truly valued and cherished our relationship. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for the state, the town or the people,” said Dukakis.
Dukakis’ strong feelings about injustice began at a young age. Even as a boy, it bothered him terribly, he noted. He has no tolerance for discrimination of any kind and has tried, throughout his career, to break down barriers regardless of whether they were religious, racial or other.
“You have to understand what life was like in those days. Brookline was 5-1 Republican and there was a small group of Democrats led by a guy named Sumner Kaplan. We were inspired by him,” he said. “A person of color could not live in Brookline with three exceptions. Two janitors with their families who lived in basement apartments and a world-renowned tenor who bought the house of an admirer. We’ve made progress but still have more work to be done,” Dukakis affirmed.
Laying the groundwork for the Massachusetts Miracle
In 1974, Gov. Dukakis was deeply involved in digging the state out of a terrible hole economically. The older, urban communities were dying, and industrial cities were in terrible shape. He spent a great deal of time during his twelve years in office trying to improve the economic environment.
“We made a lot of progress, but it wasn’t easy. Now we have high tech and biotech industries but still have some weaknesses, particularly in the western part of the state. We continue to try and address these areas but building affordable housing needs to be a top priority,” said Dukakis.
Dukakis emphasized that in his opinion nothing compares with public service and the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. He thrived on his ability to teach and mentor students and give them the opportunity to do good things.
Family roots formed values
He attributed his strong support for immigrants, ethics and hard work on the fact that both of his parents and their families immigrated to the US from Greece. His dad went on to become a doctor who practiced for fifty years. His mom was the first Greek woman to attend Bates College. He takes great pride in his background and all that his parents accomplished.
He and his wife, Kitty, have a large family that includes their three children, their spouses and twelve grandchildren, all of whom make their grandparents very proud.