Gael Mahony, a gentleman whose vision and leadership shaped Beacon Hill for more than 50 years, died at home on November 4. He passed away “as elegantly and peacefully as he had lived his life,” said Connaught Mahony, his wife of 62 years.
“There is nobody quite like him,” said the late Tad Stahl in 2011 after the community honored Gael with the Beacon Award. “He is very bright, dedicated and genuine. You knew you could believe in him. If he said something was right, you just knew it was right.”
Gael’s service as president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association and later as a supporter was an inspiration for a more recent president, John Achatz. “Out of all the noisy issues at any moment, he could distinguish the ones that were truly important and then motivate the neighborhood to pursue a goal zealously and to not be discouraged by setbacks.”
When the Mahonys moved to the Hill after the World War II, middle class families were moving to the suburbs and the Beacon Hill Civic Association had become quiet. “Gael stirred the neighborhood into new activism, most notably in the establishment and expansion of the Beacon Hill Architectural District and interest in preservation of our historic neighborhood, but also the formation of a nursery school, opposition to surface parking lots on the Boston Common and planting pear trees on Pinckney Street,” said Achatz.
A skilled attorney, he generously bestowed his valuable legal talents on the neighborhood. “He successfully argued in the Supreme Judicial Court that Suffolk University’s plan for what is now its Ridgeway Lane building should comply with zoning and architectural standards, and he rallied the neighborhood in successful opposition to its proposal to build a high rise dormitory on Somerset Street.
“Without Gael’s focus on the needs of young families and on architectural preservation, Beacon Hill would not be nearly as great a place to live as it is today,” said Achatz.
A Massachusetts native, his family moved when he was age 10 to what is now the Goethe-Institut in the Back Bay and later to Mt. Vernon Street. He attended Boston Latin School, Phillips Academy Andover, Yale University and Harvard Law School, and served in the Air Force during World War II.
During his over 50 years of practice, Gael Mahony was one of Boston’s preeminent and most highly respected lawyers, according to a neighbor and colleague Steve Young. He was a trial and an appellate lawyer of the first order, spending most of his career at Hill & Barlow and the last years at Holland & Knight. He served as an Assistant United States Attorney and as a Special Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General, and was appointed to various commissions and committees including the Advisory Committee to the First Circuit United States Court of Appeals and the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct.
He was also elected to and served as president of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, an invitation-only organization comprising civil as well as criminal and plaintiff defense trial lawyers from both the United States and Canada. In 1994, Boston Magazine named Gael the lawyer of choice in ‘bet the company cases.’
“He practiced with dignity, professionalism and as a gentleman,” said Young. “He was respected, liked and will be missed by all who worked with him, clients, partners, associates, co-counsel, opposing counsel and judges alike.”
His future wife Connaught first caught Gael’s eye at a Harvard-Yale game. “She was dating the brother of the girl he was dating,” said their daughter Medb Sichko. “It took a few years to disentangle those relationships. Gael ended up with Connaught, and the poor brother and sister were left with each other,”
It was a good match,” she continued. “My mother is passionate and mercurial, and my father was quiet and patient. He used to say that ‘she spent her life at the edge of a cliff and he spent his life helping her down.’”
It was with that same great sense of humor and patience that he helped raise Medb (pronounced Maeve) and her two brothers, Ieuan-Gael (Ian Gael) and Eoghan-Ruadh (Owen Roe).
The family has fond memories of their summers spent at their Cape Cod home and particularly their many sailing adventures. “Dad, though, was not the sailor he thought he was,” said Medb. “My brother and I raced sailboats, and on one very windy day we asked him to join us because we needed his weight. He was pulling so hard on the mainsheet line with his teeth that one popped out. Another time he was roll tacking and, as he threw his weight to turn the boat around, over it went. On another occasion he gallantly took a proper English aunt for a sail on his sunfish. Unfortunately, he ran it right into a rock, and she went sailing right off the boat. Whatever happened, he never lost his sense of humor.”
As a young man, Gael was a staunch Republican, according to Medb, and particularly enjoyed his time assisting Senator Edward Brooks. Later, Governor William Weld appointed him to a special commission on foster care. Being one who loved the law and always tried to be impartial, he soon found himself urging the state to pay for services for these children when they were young to avoid the far greater expenses of caring for troubled adults.
Gael became more and more liberal as he aged, although he didn’t go quite as far as to become a registered Democrat. As long as he was alive, he really cared about voting and thus had cast an absentee ballot for Martha Coakley. He died on Election Day, but not until after 1 p.m. so his vote could be counted. “Although the election turnout was not what he wanted, it was important for him to know that his vote would count,” she said.
Memorial service will be held at 11 am on Monday, January 5, 2015 at King’s Chapel, 58 Tremont Street. In lieu of flowers, donations in Gael’s memory may be made to Greater Boston Legal Services, 197 Friend Street, Boston, 02114.