Gloria Fox ends 30-year legislative career
“God is good,” outgoing State Rep. Gloria Fox said from the rostrum on the floor of the House chamber last week in what was her last speech as the 7th Suffolk representative.
“All the time,” came a smattering of voices from the mostly African American constituents and former staff members who came to mark the end of Fox’s 30-year career on Beacon Hill.
Fox, who first took office in 1987, drew from her life’s story — growing up in foster care in Boston and Everett, her life in Roxbury as a single mother whose entry into the world of activism came when she joined demonstrations to block the state’s plans to extend Interstate 95 through Roxbury. In the heyday of community activism in 1960s and ’70s Boston, Fox made a name for herself by advocating on behalf of her predominantly low-income neighbors in Lower Roxbury.
After an unsuccessful 1984 run for the 7th Suffolk District seat then held by Doris Bunte, Fox ran again in 1986, prevailing in a three-way Democratic primary. Since then, she has fended off the occasional challenge from a perennial candidate and, in recent years, poorly-resourced challengers who failed to come close to unseating her.
During her three decades in office, Fox distinguished herself as a staunch advocate for human service providers.
“I started out as what we called a poverty warrior,” she said. “I’ve lived a life of giving and sharing. This particular position as a state representative has allowed me to provide resources and support to the community that has adopted me.”
Her commitment to anti-poverty work has earned her the admiration of human service advocates.
“Our experience has been that Representative Fox has been a tireless, consistent and authentic advocate for human services,” said Michael Weekes, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers, an umbrella group for human service nonprofits and their employees. “I think her legacy of achievement addresses needs across the commonwealth.”
Fox portrays her work as “a life of giving and sharing.”
Inside the House chamber, she said she has worked to keep relations cordial, even when she has been at odds with her colleagues and legislative leadership.
“I have been challenging to work with at times,” she said. “Sometimes we’ve had serious debates and conversations. I consider it a human exercise to disagree and not be disagreeable.”
Fox is one of three members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus who are leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. Springfield Rep. Benjamin Swan is retiring after 22 years in the House. He is being replaced by Springfield City Councilor Bud Williams. Lawrence Rep. Marcos Devers, first elected in 2010, lost a four-way race in the Democratic primary to immigration lawyer Juana Matias.
“We are looking forward to new members from Boston, Lawrence and Springfield,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes, chairman of the caucus. “We’re excited for the new energy.”
But Holmes notes that the three departing legislators together represent 59 years of seniority.
“It makes a big difference when it comes to chairmanships and committee assignments,” he said. “It could pose a big challenge for us.”
Fox’s career has stretched back from the heyday of what then was the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus, when her colleagues, including representatives Mel King and Saundra Graham and Sen. Bill Owens, pressed forward with an aggressive civil rights agenda, to the current era of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
“She’s been in my life forever,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, who recalled Fox visiting his class at the Umana High School in East Boston. “She always had words of encouragement for us. She was committed to making sure there were more people of color in elected office.”
Fox told her fellow legislators and supporters she plans to remain politically active and work with the National Caucus of Black State Legislators and other groups.
“I’ve been a part of this building, and the feeling of that will live with me forever,” she said. “I love what I do. Service has been an important part of my life.”
While Fox has honed her speechmaking skills during her decades on the House floor, her farewell speech, though peppered with goodbyes and fond memories of life in the State House, was brief. She thanked her fellow legislators and House Speaker Robert DeLeo before ending with her signature sign-off:
“God is good! Thank you.”