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Remembering Senator Ken Donnelly
Loyal Friend and Staunch Retiree Advocate
APRIL 7, 2017: The news of Senator Ken Donnelly’s passing on April 2nd after an 8-month battle with brain cancer was met with great sadness on Beacon Hill, across the firefighter community and amongst our members.
Donnelly, a retired Lt. from the Lexington Fire Dept. was not only a Mass Retirees member, but maintained a close friendship and collaboration with our Association dating back three decades.
“I first met Ken in the 1980s, when he was working his way up through the ranks of the Professional Fire Fighters of MA. Ralph White and I worked very closely with Ken during the creation of the local coalition bargaining law, which finally gave retirees a seat at the health care bargaining table,” recalls Association Executive VP Bill Rehrey. “Since that time, I believe Ken Donnelly played a role in every single issue impacting public retirees and employees. He was always thoughtful and went out of his way to build consensus whenever he could.”
As Secretary Treasurer of the PFFM, Donnelly was always there to lend a helping hand and support initiatives benefiting public retirees.
“When I joined the Association in the early 90s it was the beginning of a long line of pension and healthcare reform initiatives that had a direct impact on our members. Through all of those fights, Mass Retirees had no closer ally than the PFFM. Bob McCarthy (President) and Ken Donnelly were at the State House standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” says Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel. “Together, we passed the landmark COLA reform law in 1997 (Chapter 17) and were able to protect retirees and employees during the massive 1998 disability pension reform (Chapter 306), which also included PERAC.”
Prior to retiring from the Lexington FD, Donnelly served as a PERAC Commissioner, appointed by then Auditor Joe DeNucci. There he helped shape the new Commission into the national model for pubic pension oversight that it has become.
Shortly after retiring, Donnelly jumped into and won the special election for an open State Senate seat in the 4th Middlesex District. The district includes Donnelly’s hometown of Arlington, along with Billerica, Burlington, Lexington and Woburn.
In the Senate, Donnelly rose through the ranks to become Assistant Majority Leader. He also served as the Vice Chairman of the key Public Service Committee, as well as held a seat on the Committee on Ways and Means.
“Ken led by example. His life’s work was about standing up and helping others. In the Senate, he always fought for the underdog and focused on issues that improved the lives of the middle class. And when he spoke up, his colleagues would stop and listen to what he had to say,” said Duhamel. “I’ll miss his friendship, guidance and the evening commute phone calls that would often come from Ken. He liked to talk policy and strategize on how to help people. Ken had a heart of gold.”
“I had the privilege to see firsthand Ken’s commitment to protecting and helping public employees and retirees throughout his career. Working for him as an employee of PERAC, with him on many issues in the State Senate and most recently as President of Mass Retirees I can say without a doubt that he was the strongest voice for public retirees and employees in state government,” said Association President Frank Valeri.