Catherine “Cathy” 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, sadly passed away in 2015.
On Saturday, family, friends and former colleagues gathered at the Noddle Island Community Room at Logan Airport’s rental car facility to dedicate the room in McLean’s memory. The room is used by Eastie residents to host community meetings and other events.
“Cathy Leonard-McLean was an advocate for change, both at Massport and the East Boston Community,” said Massport CEO Thomas Glynn. “ I am pleased that we are able to dedicate this gathering spot to her memory and help ensure her legacy will continue to inspire those who seek to help others.”
McLean began working for Massport in 1972 as the first staff hire for the Port Authority’s newly formed Government and Community Affairs 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 McLean made her mark.
As an Irish girl from Mission Hill, she had a daunting task to try to convince a group of mostly Italian-Americans who 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 Eastie and its struggle against Logan expansion.
According to those who worked with her, McLean was a remarkable person who was directly responsible for resolving many Eastie-Massport related disputes, more often than not, in the neighborhood’s favor.
She began her career at Massport at a time when the old guard in the neighborhood had very little trust for what Massport was doing. Many of her colleagues were amazed that this young Irish girl from Mission Hill working for Massport could sit at the kitchen tables of residents, 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 well respected both at Massport and in Eastie. She made it her business to make sure the people here got what they needed and what they wanted. Her demeanor and manner, graciousness and natural empathy for the people of Eastie 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 the neighborhood’s opposition, its concerns or its struggle.
In 2015, Eastie celebrated the opening of the Neptune Road Buffer Park, but it was the early work of 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 her 30 plus years as an employee of Massport, she worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between the Port Authority and residents of Eastie, which was no easy task.