- Historic Sites
John F. Fitzgerald put his seal on his city, his times, and a political tribe that still increases. To foes he was “Fitxblarney” but friends called him
August 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 5
After Honey Fitz’s withdrawal, he and the ward bosses—with the exception of Lomasney—united incongruously with the Good Government Association on an anti-Curley candidate, City Councillor Thomas J. Kenny, an honest but uninspired budget expert who had once served on the school committee. At the last moment P. J. Kennedy shifted his support to Curley. In spite of the opposition of the rest of the bosses—whom Curley now swore to destroy—the young man from the South End was unbeatable.
With Curley’s election, Honey Fitz’s office-holding days came to an end. Though he would live on for a third of a century, though he would several times be a candidate, he would not again achieve public place. But he remained a potent political figure in Boston.
For some time he enjoyed his leisure. He could indulge in his passion for long auto rides, for cruising in Boston Harbor, and for sporting events—baseball, football, prize fights. With the approach of winter he sunned himself in Florida. His social life buzzed much as ever. He dined and he danced, he spoke and he sang. In 1915 he received an honorary doctorate of laws from Notre Dame University, and liked afterward to be referred to as Dr. Fitzgerald. But by 1916 he could feel the old political stirrings in his blood.
That year was the first in Massachusetts for direct election of United States senators, and Henry Cabot Lodge, who had served three terms by vote of the Massachusetts legislature, was forced to take his chances with the electorate. In the wake of Wilson’s presidential victory a Yankee Democrat could probably have defeated Lodge that year. Not, however, Honey Fitz. Fitzgerald managed to win the Democratic nomination, but Lodge won the election.
After that the road led downhill. Honey Fitz ran for various offices without success, sporadically announced and then withdrew his candidacy, and imperceptibly but surely began that mellowing process by which politicians and other wayward characters become fixtures, so that even their old enemies are glad to see them. P. J. Kennedy died in 1929. Lomasney followed shortly after Roosevelt’s first inauguration. Only the indestructible Curley remained, alternately winning and losing elections. In 1937, with wry pride, Honey Fitz saw his son-in-law appointed ambassador to Great Britain.
Although no one admitted it openly, it was obvious by the forties that the last of the Dearos was slipping. At his eighty-first birthday party at the Parker House a congratulatory message arrived from the White House, addressed to Boston’s Number One Booster. The climax of the party came when Honey Fitz’s grandson, Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, suddenly walked into the room, lean and yellow but buoyantly alive after surviving the loss of his PT boat and an attack of malaria.
After his discharge from the Navy, Jack Kennedy came to Boston and let it be known that he would run for Congress from his grandfather’s old district. Grandfather and grandson spent hours together, Honey Fitz retelling his old political sagas, giving advice; but Jack with his Harvard background and his clipped speech represented a new breed of Irish-American. The supporters and strategists who gathered around him were Democrats in the liberal New Deal image, lean young men, college-educated, most of them ex-officers, many from private schools, with only their surnames to show kinship with the old. Kennedy won the election easily. Honey Fitz danced a jig on top of a table, sang a quavering “Sweet Adeline,” and proudly predicted that his grandson would eventually be President.
Honey Fitz lived long enough to celebrate his diamond wedding and to see Jack overwhelmingly reelected to Congress, but not quite long enough to see him triumph in 1952 over Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the grandson of his old Brahmin adversary. James Michael Curley outlived Honey Fitz by almost a decade. In a few years it seemed they both had been gone a generation. Boston, laid waste and rebuilt through urban renewal, was no longer the city they had known when die highest building was the Custom House. The baths and convenience stations they had built to perpetuate their names had vanished like the derbies they once wore. Only Honey Fitz’s wife, Josephine Mary, lived on to see his capering prophecy fulfilled as his grandson and namesake became President of the United States. When Jack was in Boston he often used to visit her. She died at the age of ninetyeight, twenty-one months after her grandson’s assassination, without ever having been told about it.
When I was five years old I met Honey Fitz, a little over a year after Curley had driven him from public life. My father had taken me to some political reception in Dorchester Lower Mills with the promise that if I behaved myself I should meet the “exMayor.” “Ex-Mayor” had a magic sound, and I envisioned him as a stately being in a sweeping velvet gown with a gold chain of office round his neck. “Where is the ex-Mayor?” I kept badgering my father, until I finally saw before my disbelieving eyes the brusque, dumpy figure in the brown striped suit that was John F. Fitzgerald. Honey Fitz may have been a ladies’ man, but he obviously had no great liking for children. He exchanged a few words with my father, gave me a perfunctory pat on the head, and turned away. I was too disappointed to speak.