To residents of Boston, Tom Menino was the Mayor Next Door, the chief executive you might meet over the back fence. He rarely traveled, had no vacation getaway, and was content to live with his wife Angela in a modest house not far from where he grew up.
Menino died Thursday, less than a year after he was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. He was 71.
On the day he became Boston's longest serving mayor, Menino was attending to backyard details as he promoted recycling bins in the city's Roxbury neighborhood.
What would the city's founding leaders thought of the rotund, rough-hewn son of Italian stock ushering their "City on the Hill" into the 21st Century?
For his part, Menino always defined his role simply: "As mayor, I've continued to move forward."
His two decade tenure was dogged by street violence, peaks and valleys in the economy and an equally up-and-down quest to improve the Hub's public schools. But on his watch, the downtown rose skyward to world class heights and financial prosperity.
For a city once wracked by racial tensions, it had a mayor its increasingly multi-ethnic residents seemed comfortable with, and some saw him as a father figure. However, the impish grin on that broad face belied a hard-nosed political street fighter through bitter battles with police and firefighter unions.
He said he wasn't a fancy talker, which no one would deny; nevertheless, he wouldn't shy about uttering his signature mush-and-muddle of English, even gamely attempting verses from Edgar Allen Poe during a memorial to the Boston born poet.
Born Dec. 27, 1942 in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood, Thomas Michael Menino trod an unlikely path to power. He was first a state senator's legislative aide, then a district city councilor and council president. While council president, he became acting mayor after former Mayor Ray Flynn left to become an ambassador to the Vatican in 1993.
It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and Menino seized the moment, using the temporary mayor's post to swear in new police and boldly saying "no" to a teacher's contract, creating an image of a tough, frugal leader.
Voters gave him the mayor's job full time starting in January 2004. His challenger Jim Brett seemed the more polished candidate, but voters chose the so-called "Urban Mechanic" to get under the city's hood and tinker with the municipal gears and pistons, including timely snow removal.
Running unopposed for a second term, he swamped single challengers to win third and fourth terms with as much as 76 percent of the vote. When he was faced with an unusual tag-team opposition by two city councilors, he easily won an unprecedented fifth term despite charges of over consolidating power.
His 13- and 14-hour days ultimately taxed his health, along with bouts of skin cancer and the digestive disorder known as Crones disease. Earlier this year, doctors delivered the most serious diagnosis of all: cancer that would spread to his liver and lymph nodes.
In 2013, Menino made the most painful decision of his political life, "to tell the city I love that I will leave the job I love."