Edward J. Sullivan, a former mayor, city councilor and the Middlesex County Clerk of Courts for 48 years, died Tuesday afternoon at Youville Hospital in Somerville.
By all accounts, Edward J. Sullivan was man truly dedicated to two things: his family and his civic work.
Sullivan, a former mayor, city councilor and the Middlesex County Clerk of Courts for 48 years, died Tuesday afternoon at Youville Hospital in Somerville. He was 86. Sullivan had been in and out of the hospital since April and died of an internal infection.
“He was fondly referred to as Uncle Edward by many people,” said City Councilor Michael Sullivan, his nephew, who was elected as to the clerk post after his uncle retired from politics last year. “I had the opportunity to campaign with him last year, and I remember he took the opportunity as we went around just to thank people. He served with distinction, and with honor, and he loved doing it. He served with a great sense of heart.”
Sullivan was elected clerk of the county courts in 1958, a position he held until earlier this year. He served as a Cambridge city councilor from 1949 to 1960, and held the mayor’s seat from 1956 to 1958.
In 2001, state officials renamed the Middlesex County Superior Courthouse in Sullivan’s honor. He served as a politician for so long that he was honored at the 2006 state Democratic convention as the longest actively serving Democrat in the state at the time. When the courthouse was dedicated to him six years ago, then-Chief Justice of the Superior Court Suzanne DelVecchio joked that the first thing the Pilgrims must have done upon landing in Plymouth was to elect Sullivan clerk of courts.
“It seems like he’s been here that long,” she said at the dedication ceremony in 2001.
Edward Sullivan was an integral part of the Sullivan family’s political dynasty in Cambridge, where a member of the family has served on the City Council since 1936. Reminders of the family’s political legacy are everywhere, not only at the courthouse in East Cambridge named for Edward. The city’s water treatment plant is named after Sullivan’s brother, Walter, also a former city councilor. The City Council meeting room — known as the Sullivan Chambers — is a tribute to the former politicians from the family: Walter, Edward and their father, Michael Andrew Sullivan.
“I knew Ed well,” said Frank Duehay, a former Cambridge mayor. “I think he was a terrific clerk. He was a model for the state in running that system.”
Duehay, who currently serves on the board of trustees of the Cambridge Health Alliance, said he admired Edward as both a man and an elected official.
“A person recently came up to me who had just served jury duty, and told me how impressed they were at the explanation of the jurors’ duties,” said Duehay. “I can concur with those comments. I went through the [same] process once. I was selected for jury duty while Ed was clerk, but I never actually got to serve in a trial.”
Sullivan’s political career was not without controversy. Last year, he came under fire for allegedly punishing a former case specialist for filing a complaint with his union against his employers. In 2004, a male court employee slapped him with a restraining order, accusing him of physical threats and verbal abuse.
Edward Sullivan is survived by his wife, Jacqueline. According to Michael Sullivan, donations in Edward’s memory can be made to the Edward J. Sullivan Scholarship Fund at the New England School of Law or to Youville Hospital.
Sullivan’s body will lie in state in the Sullivan Chamber at Cambridge City Hall, 795 Mass Ave., on Friday, July 27, from 3-7 p.m. A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 28, at St. Peter’s Church in Cambridge.
Erin Smith contributed to this report.