In mid-January 1980, the Cambridge City Council chose Councilor Frank Duehay to serve as the city’s mayor.
“Little did I realize then how that experience would fundamentally change my life,” he would recall a few years later.
His life really changed, though, when he was a boy and his family moved to Cambridge, a city he would call home for more than seven decades.
A three-time former mayor who served four terms on the Cambridge School Committee and 14 terms on the City Council, Mr. Duehay died Friday in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of acute leukemia.
Mr. Duehay was 87 and had moved a few years ago with his wife, Jane Kenworthy Lewis, from the Cambridge house where he grew up to the Brookhaven at Lexington retirement community.
“He was Mr. Cambridge in a lot of ways,” said City Councilor Marc McGovern, a former Cambridge mayor who had been mentored since boyhood by Mr. Duehay. “He was very, very dedicated to and loved this city.”
Renowned and respected for his ability to craft compromises, Mr. Duehay had a foot in both camps as he led efforts to bridge the town-gown divide in a city famous for its academic institutions. He was a graduate of what was then Cambridge High and Latin High School and held three degrees from Harvard University.
Along with his 36 consecutive years as an elected official, Mr. Duehay had taught and been an assistant dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he developed a plan to recruit minorities.
In Cambridge, the City Council selects a councilor to serve as mayor, who also chairs the School Committee. In those roles, held simultaneously, Mr. Duehay also helped lead efforts to desegregate the city’s schools.
“To me, Frank exemplified integrity and public service,” said Rob Barber, a longtime friend who had managed a couple of Mr. Duehay’s council campaigns. “It was significant to Frank that he encourage and help to foster civic engagement by Cambridge citizens in their neighborhood groups and about their community issues.”
Mr. Duehay had also served as executive director of the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University, and left when he realized he needed to focus all his energy on his mayoral role.
“In his tireless and inclusive efforts to improve education, health care, expanded job opportunities, and the environment, he was also a mentor to generations of civic leaders who hold Frank’s belief in government and positive leadership in our hearts.,” said Leslie Kirwan, a special assistant to Mr. Duehay when he was first mayor who later served as state secretary for administration and finance, and now is dean for administration and finance for Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Encouraging citizens and students alike to participate in city politics and affairs, Mr. Duehay set an example by remaining active outside of elective offices during and after his political career.
Among his many pursuits, he had been a fellow at what was then the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, and had served for many years on the boards of The Cambridge Homes, a retirement community, and the Cambridge Health Alliance.
In 2015, Cambridge created the Francis H. Duehay Public Service Volunteer Award in his honor to recognize citizens who, like him, were civically engaged.
“Frank is truly one of the finest human beings I have ever known – just a truly principled person,” said Glenna Lang of Cambridge, a longtime friend who had worked on his campaigns, and who teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.
“He was just so proud of Cambridge and its civic life,” said her husband, Alexander von Hoffman, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Francis Harvey Duehay was born in Washington, D.C., in 1933, the son of Francis Duehay and Olive Dennett.
Mr. Duehay had lived in Belmont and Acton before moving to Cambridge at age 8, where he grew up mostly in West Cambridge with his mother, an administrator at the First Parish in Cambridge, and his stepfather, Moncure Burke Berg, a patent attorney.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Duehay received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1955. He served in the Navy on the destroyer USS Rooks, and then returned home, where he graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a master’s in teaching.
He taught English at Belmont High School before finishing a doctorate in education at Harvard while beginning his career as an academic administrator.
Elected to the School Committee in 1963, he remained an elected official until announcing in 1999 that he wouldn’t seek another term on the City Council. He had been elected to the council as a progressive, a quintessential Cambridge liberal who was part of a slate of Cambridge Civic Association candidates.
“He was always willing to sit down with anybody who wanted his advice or his counsel, always with the goal of helping someone be a better representative for the city,” McGovern said.
As a politician and in private settings, “Frank was a grand combination of serious, lively, and funny,” said Barber, a former US ambassador to Iceland. “As a mentor to so many, he brought out the best in people. He sought to develop the potential that he saw and to help individuals to develop and communities to benefit.”
Over the years, his campaign workers became more like family than friends, creating networks throughout the city of like-minded activists.
“His birthday was at the end of July, and he would say he was having a party for his closest friends, and inevitably there would be more than a hundred people there,” Lang said. “But they were his closest friends, and he loved every one of them.”
She introduced Mr. Duehay to Jane Kenworthy Lewis, and they married in 1991. She is his only immediate survivor, and had retired in 2013 as assistant clerk for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
“It’s been the happiest period of my life,” he said in a 1999 Globe interview of their time together.
Mr. Duehay had also been closely involved in Harvard alumni affairs, including with his graduating class, and received the Harvard Alumni Association Award in 2006.
In 2000, he began leading a capital campaign that raised millions to support the efforts of the Phillips Brooks House Association of Harvard College, where the executive director’s job was endowed by Mr. Duehay’s Harvard class.
He served on the board of the student-led organization, which fosters programs that include summer camps in Cambridge and Greater Boston for hundreds of low-income youths.
“Frank was a big champion of those programs,” said Maria Dominguez Gray, the executive director. “And for me personally, any time there was a crisis or something that we needed support on he was a calming force with such great insight.”
Mr. Duehay had done much the same for decades with elected officials, participants in community organizations, academic administrators, and people he encountered every day as he worked to unite a diverse city.
“He listened,” Barber said. “At a time when Cambridge was very much a diverse city, but one with different factions, he worked hard to bridge those differences and develop consensus.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.