Robin MacCormack had a gift for blending in. With a neat dark haircut, a winning smile, and the cachet of hisIrish-Catholic surname, City Hall”s first liaison to the gaycommunity was an ally to politicians, a buddy to police officers,and a trusted resource to the city”s gays and lesbians. But just a few years after he was appointed by Mayor Kevin H. Whitein 1979, MacCormack melted out of public view.
And on April 6,after years without contact with family or friends, he wasdiscovered dead by police in his Dorchester apartment with aself-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 63. So far, MacCormack”s remains have gone unclaimed. Two peoplewho knew him for decades – attorney Joe Donnellan and retiredBoston Police Sergeant Herb White – are working to get him thememorial they say he deserves.
“He was a guy who helped everybody in the world, and, at theend, he needed a lot of help,”” said Donnellan, whoworked to track down McCormack”s relatives. “But hecouldn”t really put his hand out for it.”” MacCormack”s brother, Edward J. MacCormack, said he and hissister, Margaret Guarino, declined to retrieve the remains because,he said, he does not know what his brothers” wishes were.They had not spoken since 2007. Donnellan and White said they will try to plan a memorial beforethe end of May. To many, MacCormack “s appointment – lauded in newspapers atthe time as the first liaison on gay issues in any major Americancity – represented a dramatic shift in relations between thegovernment and the city”s gay and lesbian population. Flat Oval Tube
“In the 1980s, the idea of having a designated individual inCity Hall who was there for me and my community was groundbreakingand transformative,”” said Ben Klein, who metMacCormack during the founding of the group now called the BostonAlliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. At that time, when gays and lesbians had no standing in City Hall,they rarely provided information to the authorities because theyfeared being outed or harassed. Many believed that violent crimesagainst gay people went uninvestigated by police. “It”s hard to imagine, looking back from today, howlittle access we had in city government,”” said KevinCranston, director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease at theMassachusetts Department of Public Health. “We very much felton the edges of our society.”” When White established the liaison position, MacCormack, an EastBoston native and a graduate of St. Food Packaging Tube
Dominic Savio Preparatory HighSchool, seemed an obvious choice for the job. “He had this very strait-laced look,”” saidKlein, now an attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates &Defenders. “At the time, there were just so many stereotypesabout gay people and how they dressed and that they were perverts.. . China Toothpaste Tube
Robin really opened some eyes in City Hall and the PoliceDepartment.”” MacCormack”s role as liaison allowed gay people to makecriminal complaints and provide information to police withoutouting themselves or putting themselves at risk of harassment. He urged the Boston Police Department to require that officers logtimes of departure and arrival when transporting prisoners of bothgenders; previously, the requirement, meant as a deterrent againstsexual abuse, was only used when transporting female prisoners. Later, he worked as an undercover source during a 1990 bombing inRoslindale that killed one police officer and maimed another, Whitesaid. MacCormack also hobnobbed with politicians: Donnellan was surprisedto see a photo of MacCormack at the wedding of a Kennedy.
And US Representative Barney Frank said MacCormack was the firstperson he came out to. In a 1980 article in the Globe, MacCormack explained that his goalwas to change assumptions about what it means to be a gay person. “I”m often asked how the gay community is going toreact to something,”” MacCormack said. “And Ihave to ask, how is the straight community going to react? And theysay, you can”t say that; there are so many different peoplein the straight community.
Well, there are, too, in the gaycommunity.”” But MacCormack was also a guarded person, a trait that becameincreasingly prominent as he grew older. “For all of his public role, Robin was extremelyprivate,”” Cranston said. “He was always kind ofcircumspect about talking about his personal life.”” Elimination of MacCormack”s position in 1981, ostensibly dueto budget cuts, sparked protests in the city that ended withmembers of the gay and lesbian communities throwing teabags ontothe mayor”s doorstep in Beacon Hill and chanting,”Robin”s job cost less than Kevin”skitchen!”” The position was reinstated the next year, with a salary thatnearly doubled, but MacCormack did not return to the job. He managed a couple of bars, then became an armed security guard.Friends from his heyday in City Hall began to notice his absence.For periods as long as a few years, he would not return phone callsand letters from his brother and sister. The siblings worried about him, but figured that bouts of solitudewere part of his nature.
Last year, MacCormack”s landlord stopped receiving rentchecks. Finally, police were called to the apartment to evict him. Theyfound his body in his bedroom. Donnellan and White said they do not understand why he did notreach out for assistance.
“That stubborn Irish pride,”” said White.”He wouldn”t ask for help, you know?”” One of MacCormack”s neighbors, who declined to give her name,said she almost never saw him leave his apartment and doubted thatanyone in the building knew him. Last week, the only evidence that he had lived there was themailbox for apartment 3: MacCormack had been written in pencil onthe mailbox label, erased, but still just barely visible. Globe correspondent Colin Young contributed to this report. MartinePowers can be reached at.
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