Farewell to Charles E. Doyle

Charles E. Doyle 

Occasionally this blog tells the story of the great personalities who comprise the fabric of the city, the ones who you won’t necessarily read about in the daily newspapers. One of those people died this week, Charlie Doyle of Brighton.

If I were forced to reduce Doyle’s life to headlines, which is always difficult, I’d describe him as the leader — the innovator really — of a vibrantly progressive ward committee in Brighton, Ward 21, a long-time city politico, having run the City of Boston’s Cable Office under a number of city mayors, a political visionary and a Bostonian’s Bostonian.

But I can’t really boil Doyle down to that, because he was much, much more. His story begins amid the simmering liberalism of the late 1950s and early 1960s — before it turned into the cauldron of the latter part of that decade. He graduated from the now-defunct St. Columbkille High School of Brighton and travelled down Commonwealth Avenue to attend Boston University. There he electrified fellow students with his encyclopedic knowledge of politics and history. Then he went even farther afield for a graduate program at Columbia University in New York City. New York, at that time, was a place of swirling intellectual and political foment. Charlie and I talked about that period in his life when I visited with him at the Cable Office in the mid-1990s. It helped power a intellectual engine, but he came back to Brighton to make a difference.

When he came back, Charlie put into practice his knowledge of the burgeoning field of political science. At a time when most ward committee work was limited to distributing political signs, Doyle was turning it into a science. He gathered detailed voter data, compiled demographic information, and kept the best data bases in the city.

My grandparents lived in Brighton for much of my life, and I thought I knew the neighborhood. That was until I called Doyle for a story. In painstaking — and delicious — detail, he broke down the differences between the liberal, but sometimes transient, Ward 21, and the more socially-conservative, Ward 22.

He was a skilled photographer. His work, which was on display at his wake, could serve as a pictorial history of Boston with vintage photos of Kevin White, Larry Bird and others. He was ahead of the curve on a trend that has become very popular today, bicycle riding. I remember on him tooling around his bike at Nantasket Beach in Hull. He remained a political junkie until the end, relishing WGBH’s Friday night line up of political shows, beginning with Greater Boston.

But, most of all, Doyle was the quiet creator of a political dynasty in Brighton. He took the two basketball-loving sons of his sister Mary under his wing and imparted to them everything he ever knew about politics. It was his gift. He bestowed it on the dogged and lovable Kevin Honan, who has become as reliable and earnest a representative as that neighborhood has ever had. And he delivered it to the charismatic, witty and talented Brian Honan, who served Brighton as a city councillor and then was running a rigorous campaign for district attorney, when he died suddenly and tragically at the age of 39 in 2002.

I can’t say that Charlie was the same after that. But who would be.

There was something awful about seeing many of the same faces at the funeral home on Chestnut Hill Avenue yesterday. Amidst the pain, people were talking about one of Charlie’s great final achievements. Back in 2005 and 2006 a former Clinton Administration official, little known in the Boston area, started making the rounds trying to meet people and build up a grass roots political organization. He was, of course, Deval Patrick. Most insiders met Patrick with indifference at best.

Doyle was different. He welcomed Patrick to a ward committee meeting. There he grilled the would-be governor. Why was he any different than any of the other great progressive candidates, whose candidacies failed after great fanfare? Patrick convinced many in the ward that he was different. He took 14/18 delegates at the caucuses that year.

With Doyle’s departure, like the death of Boston-chronicler Alan Lupo a couple weeks ago, the city is a poorer place, one more in danger of losing its character and characters.

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