National Press Club

Massachusetts Gov. Patrick stresses character, not politics

April 14, 2011 | By Frank Kane | fkane@cox.net

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Gov. Deval Patrick chose to discuss character development rather than politics before his National Press Club book event audience April 13 because “I’m not running for anything,” he said.

The Massachusetts Democrat, introduced by Bea Snyder of the Book and Author Committee, was here to promote and sign copies of his memoir, “A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life.”

The book describes his rise from the tenements of south Chicago through Harvard and Harvard Law, work for the NAACP and the Justice Department, humanitarian work in Africa, legal posts with Fortune 500 companies, and election and re-election as the second African-American state governor in U.S. history. (Doug Wilder of Virginia was the first.) It depicts how his family, teachers, church, and friends helped him develop traits of idealism and hopefulness that propelled him.

He got his first big break in life when he was chosen by a foundation called A Better Chance to go to Milton Academy, an elite school near Boston. “It was a different world from the South Side of Chicago. At Milton you were told to wear jackets to class. The only jacket I had was a wind-breaker. So there I was in my wind-breaker.”

He learned to fit in. "I got so I could out-wasp the Wasps," he said. "I knew the code."

But he said that such accomplishments jeopardized his place in the other world of Chicago. When he went home, his sister complained, “You talk like a white boy.” His grandmother came to his rescue, saying, "He talks like an educated boy."

He had a “tortured relationship” with his father, a jazz musician who left his family when he was four. Years later, while a law student, he encountered his father playing in a jazz club. The father announced, “It’s my son’s birthday and I want to play a song for him entitled ‘I Can’t Get Started'”.

“I knew the lyrics well," Patrick said. "It goes ‘I’ve flown around the world on a plane. I’ve settled revolutions in Spain. The North Pole I have charted. But still I can’t get started with you.”

They both knew what the song meant---that they needed to develop simple understanding of each other.

Why did he run for governor? In business jobs, he had noted tremendous pressure on managers to produce results in the short-term. He decided that as governor he could make decisions that would provide better things over long times rather than just a short time.

And, the governor said, Massachusetts has been making progress---first in the nation in health care coverage, among the best in job growth, and improving its education. But although he is not term-limited, “I’m not going to run again,” Patrick said.

He mixed in some humor with answers to questions.

When a young man from Massachusetts asked about a possible political job as service, Patrick advised him that he could be of service in other ways than politics.

“But see me later," Patrick said. “Perhaps we should have two lines at this event. One for those seeking jobs and the other for the book signing.“