The first African-American and the first Milton graduate to serve as governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick ’74 tapped his own wellspring of optimism, motivation, creativity and charisma, attracting thousands to help in his quest for office. Based on an extraordinary grassroots effort, Deval earned the opportunity to try his hand at a new kind of leadership—having already succeeded as a student, an advocate, a volunteer, a lawyer in a private firm, an assistant attorney general for the United States, and counsel to corporations with complex challenges.
Deval honors Milton frequently: he is grateful for the experience of community here that profoundly affected his life. In fact, generating that sense of community—understanding that “we have a stake in the dreams and struggles of others” as he says—is a core element of his political vision. Faculty and students who were close to Deval during his Milton years describe a young man who came with unusual aptitudes and capabilities, who gained much and gave much over his time here.
The power of community
Chuck Duncan, former faculty and director of college counseling was house head in Deval’s dorm. “When Deval arrived at Milton he joined a group in the alcoves of Hallowell House,” Chuck says. “This was a very formidable group since they all came from families of great means, and all but one were sons of graduates. Here was Deval with the single, now well-known, blue wind-jacket and most of his mates on D corridor of Hallowell had a closet full of sport coats.
“Bill Evans (deceased) was the faculty member in charge of the alcoves. Bill Evans was a wonderful mentor for these young boys. He loved his ‘alcovers’ and they in turn had great respect for him.
“I suggested to Deval that he might like to take on a morning paper route, delivering the Globe and Herald to faculty and students, and make a little extra spending money. Deval jumped at the chance and used our children’s little red wagon to carry the papers dorm to dorm as well as to many faculty homes. This was a big commitment, seven days a week up before dawn, rain or shine, for the entire school year.
“On April 15, 1974, our golden retriever gave birth to nine puppies. Deval and a classmate, Keith Kirkland, built the whelping box and over several hours helped deliver the litter. After the puppies were born Deval was regular in helping to feed, exercise, and care for the brood. Deval named his favorite puppy, Brutus.”
Anna Waring ’74, an ABC student like Deval (from A Better Chance program that provided scholarships to prep schools for promising, disadvantaged students), met him during ABC’s summer program before they both matriculated at Milton (she to the Girls’ School and he to the Boys’ School, at that time). “Friendly, sweet, serious about his work and compassionate,” she describes Deval as a 13-year old. Others echo that description. Will Speers ’75 remembers a signature moment with Deval, when Will came to trigonometry having been rejected in yet another attempt in the world of boy-meets-girl. “Sensing how devastated I was, Deval asked me, ‘What’s wrong? Tell me about it,’” he said. “He listened, without advice, without an agenda; he let me affirm my adolescent angst and then helped me— skillfully, surely—move toward knowing that life would go on, that certain things were going right in the world.”
Expanding in grace, charm and verbal acuity
Close-by campus, the home of A.O. and Aubrey Smith was a frequent retreat for Deval. Milton graduates describe the legendary A.O. and Aubrey Smith as their son, Peter (Class of 1977), does: “outsized” faculty members, who affected the lives of hundreds of boys. “Our house,” Peter says, “was one among several faculty homes that was a fun place for students, where you could let your hair down and talk about real things. I was 11 and Deval was 14, and we had a nearly instant sibling connection. Deval was very much like an older brother to me. He was the first black person I met. I’m not someone who’s about ‘color-blindedness.’ I think you have to work through the sense of another person’s otherness, but it was instantaneous. We just loved him. He was someone you would never get sick of, someone you looked forward to seeing every time. My sister Katherine died 18 months ago. Having Deval come for her memorial service in Long Beach, in the middle of his campaign, was just crucial for me and for my mother; [Deval] then again later came to her burial in Cape Cod.
“Deval seemed to have the instinct to surround himself with the best possible role models for attributes he already had. My mother can navigate the most hopelessly awkward social situations with ease. She is charming and wonderfully humorous. She loves Deval and, I’m sure, added to his social skills. My father could and would talk with absolutely anyone. He was well-known for his rigorous thinking and skill with language, and Deval enjoyed and shared that. Deval’s intellect is strong, rigorous, but not critical or cynical in a demeaning way. That combination of intellect and charm draws people to him today.”
Peter’s mother, Aubrey Smith, who taught Spanish during Deval’s years, agrees with Peter. “We were Deval’s ‘off-campus’ family. He joined us for weekends at our Cape house. He helped chop wood, sailed in the homemade sailboat (The Penguin), tipped over, dried off and loved the crazy cooking experiments which eventually led to the formation of the Gourmet Club at the Academy. He excelled in my Spanish classes eagerly joining the special activities… In his English classes with A.O., Deval constantly questioned the meaning of literary passages, making insightful comments about the characters and the action in the work.”
Part of a vanguard
Peter recalls that A.O. and Deval had some very candid conversations about race. Aubrey says, “I remember so well A.O’s advice to Deval: ‘Deval, the older you get, the more prejudice you are going to experience. Don’t let it destroy you, harden you, change you. Grow strong by being patient. Find ways to change negative situations. Have pride in who you are and the passage through rough times will be smoother, and later, a source of great strength.’”
Here was Deval, at a prep school founded in 1798, during years of racial turmoil in Boston. “In 1973, from the windows of Wigg Hall we could see the fires set by rioters in South Boston, protesters of bussing to integrate the Boston schools,” says Will Speers. How did Deval navigate those times and retain the optimism and hope that has magnetized others as they came to know him in the campaign? “He has a profound ability to see the biggest possible picture,” Will says. “That has served him throughout life—when he was unwelcome in certain restaurants during law school, or trying to get a taxi on Pennsylvania Avenue late at night after a meeting in The Oval Office. He acknowledges that these things are out there, they’re part of life, but they don’t reflect on me.”
“I think he appreciated the opportunity Milton represented,” Anna Waring says, “even as the School was working out what it meant to fulfill this new commitment. He appreciated the chance to work hard, to think about ideas. It was a relief to be with other smart people. The civil rights movement was fresh. We felt going to Milton not just as an opportunity for us as individuals; we felt we were part of the vanguard. We came with a sense that we were fortunate and needed to be responsible, and we found the institution was responsive and flexible.”
A spectrum of friends; a new mandate
“When I went from Robbins to Hallowell to visit Deval, people were always in his room; the widest possible spectrum of people all gravitated to Deval, from the BMOC jock to the quietest wallflower,” Will Speers remembers. “The crowd resembled the mix you saw at his campaign events. They came because it was fun: they knew that they would be affirmed, counted, noticed for who they were.
“Deval was and is a great listener. He pays attention to you. He wants to hear from you. I saw that in Deval as a student, in college, in early married life, as a lawyer—you have to know what the other side is thinking—and as a campaigner. He would not let himself be categorized. Even when he joined a prestigious law firm, he continued to do, on a pro bono basis, the kind of legal work he had done before for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. When he moved into the corporate world, he brought in, rather than left behind, the work he had done that had been a big part of who he was. I traveled with Deval in South Africa, when, even after he left the Clinton administration, he continued to work with the South African government as its premier outside consultant, as they worked on their bill of rights and constitution.
“What distinguished his campaign was his notion that the other side is not evil. He acknowledges good ideas, whatever their source. He goes directly against what America says it wants: the idea that you’re either for me or against me; you’re either right or wrong.
“Deval is perceptive, intuitive and curious. He has the skill, or the gift, of being able to determine the important questions that should be asked. At Deval’s 50th birthday party I said that he was one of three people I know who have what I call ‘the sixth sense of leadership.’ He knows what to do in a crisis. He sees the big picture. He stays calm. From some combination of intellect, faith and life experience he knows the right choice—he knows it will all fall into place.
“Now he has a mandate that affirms his campaign,” Will concludes, “that is, that a leadership shaped from grassroots involvement is possible, where people are vested in hope and possibility for each other.”