Charlestown life-long resident and Massachusetts political veteran Gerard Doherty, 92, passed away on June 16 leaving his wife, Regina Quinlan Doherty, and their famed Washington Street home – a home that was a bastion for insider politics and neighborhood help of any kind.
Doherty had been a major power broker in the late 1950s and 1960s and a two-term state representative, close confidant of late President John F. Kennedy, and the leader of the state Democratic Party for years.
Doherty was born on April 6, 1928, in Charlestown and attended St. Mary’s Grammar School and then Malden Catholic High School – where he was a great benefactor and continued to love everything about the school up until his final months. He graduated there – a noted football player – and went on to Harvard University. Following that, he attended Suffolk University to gain his law degree, and then was elected as state representative in 1956. Following two terms in the legislature, he became the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party through the 1960s. That led him to be a close friend of John F. Kennedy during his U.S. Senate and Presidential campaigns. He also helped coordinate presidential campaigns for Robert Kennedy and Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy – as well as leading the charge for President Jimmy Carter in New York state.
However, none of that would have been possible without the patience of his early education, and a nudge from Soldiers’ Home Chaplain (and Charlestown native) Patrick Healy – who encouraged him to go to Malden Catholic.
As accomplished as he was, he was dyslexic and never learned to read as a kid.
“I was held back in the third grade and my grades weren’t going well the next year,” he recalled during a 2018 interview with the Patriot Bridge. “My brother was a good student, but I just couldn’t read. The nun that held me back went to school with my mother and she told her that I was probably going to have to quit school when I was in the fourth grade. However, that April, my sister and I went to the movies. She would always read me the opening credits because I couldn’t read them. On that day, she was about to start reading and I told her to wait. I asked her if it said, ‘Mickey Mouse Goes to the Moon.’ That was the first thing I could ever read. I was supposed to leave school, but I went ahead and took the final exams and did well on them. So I was able to stay in school.”
In his always humorous nature, he told that story and indicated that if it weren’t for space travel and Mickey Mouse, he would have never succeeded in life.
Father Healy encouraged him to go to Malden Catholic, and that sparked a football career there and a path to Harvard – though there were some cultural shock points between Charlestown and Malden in those days.
“For me, coming from Charlestown to Malden was like foreign travel,” he said in the 2018 interview. “In Charlestown, we talked funnier than people in Malden. The brothers straightened us out…Again, coming from Charlestown, I had never really seen any trees. We went to the park for football practice and I was amazed at all the trees. Until then, I thought telephone poles were trees.”
In 2017, Doherty penned his autobiography, and gave a talk about the book in November, 2017, to a packed house at the Charlestown Knights of Columbus Hall. It was a fine moment for him, he said at the time.
In addition, he was a founding Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Library and a long-time Co-Chair of its annual ‘Profiles in Courage’ dinner.