State Senator Thomas P. Kennedy, a Brockton Democrat who overcame a crippling injury as a young man, died Sunday after battling health issues. He was 63.
Kennedy was 19, studying to become a priest in upstate New York, when he fell while washing windows after his ladder gave way. He broke his neck and would use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returned to his native Brockton after the accident and took a job as ombudsman under then-Mayor David Crosby.
Kennedy told the Globe, in a 2008 interview, that the work was life-altering. “It made me feel I was worth something to someone somewhere,” he recalled. “At that time, I wasn’t able to do anything. I could barely write my name.”
Kennedy won a seat on the Brockton City Council in 1977. Six years later, he prevailed in a 10-person race for state representative.
In 2008, he ran unopposed for the state Senate.
Kennedy was an advocate for the disabled, but told the Globe in 2008 that he did not try to seize the issue. “When I came here, I looked around and saw there have been people who have been deeply involved in the rights of disabled for years,” he said. “I have no business coming in and challenging them for the leadership role.”
It was unclear Monday morning what the cause of death was. Kennedy had been fighting cancer before he died.
Beacon Hill leaders remembered Kennedy fondly Monday.
“Tom’s perseverance in overcoming his disabilities served as an inspiration for all those who knew him and for many more who are also working to surmount their own challenges in life,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The people of Massachusetts are better off thanks to his faithful and admirable service to his community and constituents over the last 30 years. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.”
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said in a statement, “On behalf of the members of the Senate, we are deeply saddened by the passing of Senator Tom Kennedy.” He called the senator “a great friend, colleague, and public servant” who “devoted his life to serving the people of his community and was proud of his working class roots.”
“Today we mourn the loss of our friend and colleague Senator Thomas Kennedy,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, in a statement, recalling him as a “kind and decent man who I could rely on for advice and counsel.”