Thomas Menino, Boston's longest-serving mayor and one who checked himself out of the hospital in the wake of the marathon bombings to comfort residents, died Thursday after a battle with cancer, spokeswoman Dot Joyce confirmed. He was 71.
"Boston has lost a political giant," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said. "And we thank God for the service and the life of Tom Menino."
Menino, a Democrat, served five terms as mayor, starting in 1993 and ending in January.
President Obama, who said he spoke to Menino's wife, Angela, on Wednesay, said the former mayor was "big hearted and Boston strong."
"His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live," the president said in a statement.
At the time of the Boston Marathon bombings last year, Menino was in the hospital recovering from surgery for a broken leg. By that time, plagued by health issues, he had decided not to seek a sixth term.
The day after the bombings, he called Patrick and together they created the One Fund, the charity that has since raised millions of dollars for victims and their families. During the interfaith memorial service that week at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, he pulled himself up from his wheelchair to the loudest applause heard that day.
He toured Boston and made appearances from a wheelchair during the darkest days following the bombings. He became a symbol of a wounded city trying to heal.
"Nothing can defeat the heart of this city. Nothing," Menino said at the time. "Nothing will take us down, because we take care of one another."
Menino probably had direct contact with at least half the residents of Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. "No man possessed a greater love for our city, and his dedicated life in service to Boston and her people and changed the face of the city."
Looking back at his actions during the days after the bombings, Menino said, "people give me all kinds of credit. But if you're a public servant and you take an oath of office to serve the public, that's what you should be doing. That's my job. You have to serve the public, no matter what it costs you."
Even after Menino left public office in January he kept a five-day-a-week schedule as the co-director of Boston University's Initiative on Cities, said Katharine Lusk, executive director of the think tank and a former advisor to the mayor.
Menino particularly loved mentoring students. She recalled a meeting where Menino told a group of university students that elected officials should not view the media as enemies.
"The enemy is yourself if you aren't doing your job and not working for the people," she recalled him saying.
"It was a good reminder of what we should expect of all our public servants," she said. "He was totally devoted to helping people."
"He inspired perfection in all those around him," she said. "He will always be our mayor."