BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts political figures of both parties paid glowing tribute Thursday to former Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci - a Republican who never lost an election in a Democratic-leaning state - in the building where he spent nearly a quarter of a century in public life.
Cellucci, 65, died Saturday of complications from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
A misty rain fell as the American flag-draped casket bearing Cellucci's body was carried up the long front steps of the State House by honorary state police pallbearers. Moments earlier, as a hush fell over normally busy Beacon Street, a motorcade that had begun about 40 miles to the west in Cellucci's hometown of Hudson ended with the arrival of the hearse in front of the capital.
Gov. Deval Patrick and former Govs. Mitt Romney, Jane Swift, Michael Dukakis and William Weld were among those who joined Cellucci's widow, Jan, and other family members and friends at a memorial service in the House of Representatives. Cellucci - well-liked and admired on both sides of the aisle - began his political career in that chamber in 1977.
He later served as a state senator before becoming Weld's lieutenant governor in 1991. In 1997, he became acting governor after Weld resigned to pursue an ambassadorship, and in 1998 was elected in his own right as governor.
Cellucci resigned in 2001 after being tapped by President George W. Bush to become U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Swift, who was chosen by Cellucci to serve as the state's first female lieutenant governor, became emotional at times during her remembrance of the man she said "gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to govern the Commonwealth he loved."
Swift said that Cellucci worked to provide more funding for the homeless and that his work on domestic violence "saved lives, plain and simple."
"Paul proved that in the blood sport of Massachusetts politics, you can be a truly good and decent person and succeed at the highest level," Swift said.
Cellucci's reputation as an unassuming man who never forgot his roots was a constant theme of the memorial service. Speakers also recalled his low-key though sometimes biting sense of humor, and his love of movies - he would sometimes slip out of the State House to catch the latest release and was known for his imitation of Robert DeNiro, to whom Cellucci bore a resemblance.
Andrew Card, who served as Bush's chief of staff and was a lifelong friend of Cellucci's, recalled a man he said was compassionate, smart, fiscally disciplined and beloved by all he came to know.
"He was unusually quiet for someone who was a politician. He didn't practice bombast," Card said. "He also lived compassionately. He cared for everyone even if they didn't have to have a vowel at the end of their name or live in Hudson."
The former governor revealed in January 2011 that he had ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
He devoted much of his remaining time to efforts to find a cure for the progressive neurodegenerative condition, helping raise nearly $2 million for the cause.
Michael Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, recalled when Cellucci broke the news to him that he had ALS and wished to create a fund to support research into the debilitating disease.
"For the governor, this was personal, not political," said Collins, who recalls the energy Cellucci threw into the ALS Champions Fund even as his own health slowly deteriorated.
"Paul Cellucci knew he was about to embark on his final campaign," Collins said. "His final acts were offered in selfless public service."
Patrick, a Democrat, said that Cellucci reached out to him after he was elected governor, and that they would occasionally play a round of golf and talk about their families. Patrick said Cellucci understood how being governor can be one of the loneliest jobs in the state.
Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., recalled how after the attacks of Sept. 11 forced hundreds of planes to land in Canada before reaching their U.S. destinations, Ambassador Cellucci went on to visit each of those communities to thank them for their help.
After the memorial service, Cellucci's body was taken to the State House Hall of Flags, where members of the public were invited to pay last respects.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for Friday at St. Michael Catholic Church in Hudson.