Catherine Leonard-McLean, a longtime Massport employee who worked for over three decades building relationships and trust with the East Boston community as the Port Authority’s Government and Community Affairs Department assistant director, has died.
Leonard-McLean, who lived in West Roxbury and was formerly of Mission Hill, passed away on Sunday August 16 after a brief illness. She was 63 years old.
In her tenure, in the Port Authority’s Government and Community Affairs Department, Leonard-McLean began working for Massport in 1972 as the first staff hire for the newly formed department. It was during this time, at the height of Massport’s taking of Wood Island Park a few years earlier and the subsequent relocation program for residents along Neptune Road that Leonard-McLean made her mark.
As an Irish girl from Mission Hill it was a daunting task to try to convince a group of mostly Italian-Americans that had lived on Neptune Road for generations to move and relocate. However, she quickly became known for her compassion and empathy for the residents of East Boston and its struggle against Logan expansion.
“Cathy was a remarkable person who was directly responsible for resolving many East Boston-Massport disputes, more often than naught in East Boston’s favor,” said former Massport board member John Vitagliano. “The recent dedication of the Neptune Road Buffer Park was traceable to the thankless but necessary tasks performed by Cathy during her tenure at Massport.”
Massport’s Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs Anthony Guerriero, who succeeded Mrs. Leonard-McLean after her retirement from the Port Authority in 2011, said she was a mentor.
“First and foremost Cathy was a wonderful human being, a friend and my mentor,” said Guerriero. “I worked under her and succeeded her as assist dir. and she taught me a lot about the history between Massport and the community because she was a witness to the height of the struggle first hand. She taught me to always be up front with the community, share all the information and be empathetic to the residents who have had to live as a neighbor to Logan. She began at a time when the old guard in the neighborhood had very little trust for what Massport was doing and here was an young Irish girl from Mission hill sitting at their kitchen tables, listening to their stories and working hard to be their advocate at the Port Authority. She worked hard throughout her career here to establish a good deal of trust and was so well respected both here at Massport and in East Boston.”
Even longtime Massport foes like Mary Ellen Welch who spent a lifetime battling Logan’s health and quality of life impacts on East Boston residents considered Mrs. Leonard-McLean a friend. Welch said she corresponded with Leonard-McLean via letters once a week until her death Sunday.
“She made it her business to make sure the people here got what they needed and what they wanted,” said Welch. “Her demeanor and manner, graciousness and natural empathy for the people of East Boston even as some Massport projects were carried out played a positive role in the community. She never lost her cool and even though she was on the opposite side she never criticized our opposition, our concerns and our struggle and that is what was so appealing about Cathy’s approach.”
Three weeks ago East Boston celebrated the opening of the Neptune Road Buffer, but it was the early work of Leonard-McLean during those difficult years in the 1970s that made that celebratory event possible. She negotiated many of the home purchases in the Neptune Road neighborhood, and planned the first in the nation moving of homes to what is now called Coleridge Field near Constitution Beach.
In here 30 plus years as an employee of Massport, she worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between the Authority and r
esidents of East Boston which was no easy task.
She was the loving mother of Clifford L. McLean and Joseph J. McLean both of West Roxbury.
A funeral from the William J. Gormley Funeral Home, 2055 Centre St., West Roxbury will be held on Friday, August 21 at 9 a.m. followed by a Funeral Mass in St. John Chrysostom Church at 10 a.m. Visiting hours are Thursday from 3-7 p.m..