Sen. Royal Bolling Was Distinguished Legislator

Sen. Royal L. Bolling Sr. of Roxbury and Martha's Vineyard, a distinguished legislator and statesman, decorated World War II veteran and patriarch of Boston's most prominent African-American political family, died July 16, surrounded by family and friends at his beloved Martha's Vineyard home, following a brief illness. He was 82.

He was born in Dinwiddie County, Va., on June 19, 1920, to Granville and Irene Bolling. In 1928, the family moved to Framingham. At an early age he demonstrated his trademark charisma, political acumen and unique ability to bring people together to overcome differences. In a campaign for his high school class presidency, he solicited and received endorsement letters from then-Gov. Leverett Saltonstall and Boston mayor James Michael Curley. Beating the odds, he became Framingham High School's first African-American class president. This experience launched his lifelong passion for politics and public service.

In 1943, while enrolled at Howard University, he married Thelma Greene and joined the 92nd Army Infantry Division, the famous "Buffalo Soldiers." He earned the rank of first lieutenant and was a highly decorated combat veteran, earning the Silver Star, Purple Heart, four Battle Stars and the Combat Infantry Badge for his extraordinary leadership and valor under fire.

To combine his drive to be a successful businessman with his desire to serve the public, after the war, he attended Harvard University and began a career in real estate. This was a perfect avenue for this natural entrepreneur. Through his real estate business, which he maintained for five decades, he was able to support his growing family and help hundreds of families achieve their dream of home ownership.

In 1961, Mr. Bolling was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, launching his famous campaign slogan, "Get Rolling with Bolling." In 1982 he was elected to the state Senate. During his eight years in the Senate and 12 years in the House, he authored over 200 legislative initiatives, many of them groundbreaking. A strong advocate for equal access to education, his authorship of the Racial Imbalance Law led to the desegregation of Boston public schools. He secured the initial funding for the planning and site designation for Roxbury Community College and for the METCO program. Mr. Bolling was the first African-American to chair a standing committee in the House of Representatives. He served as chairman of the Public Service Committee to the state Senate and created and chaired the first Hispanic Commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A consummate diplomat widely respected for his negotiation skills, Mr. Bolling was chairman of the Special Legislative Committee on Foreign Trade and was the distinguished guest of heads of states on four continents.

His love for public service became a family tradition. Royal L. Bolling Jr., his eldest son, was the youngest African-American in Massachusetts history ever elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. His second eldest, Bruce C. Bolling, was the first African-American City Council president in Boston history. As senator, state representative and city councilor, this family trio made national history as the first ever father and sons to serve simultaneously in three different legislative bodies.

Mr. Bolling now joins his beloved wife of 60 years, Thelma (Angela) Bolling, who died on June 15, 2002. He also joins his daughters, Diane and Rhonda. He is survived by his brothers, Donald and Orrie Tucker; his children, Royal Jr., Bruce, Blair, Thelma (AwRa), Richard (Yom), Carolyn, Deborah, Charlene, Andrea (Ra'nna) and Lorraine, and many nephews, nieces, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

There will be two services for Senator Bolling. In Boston, a service will be held Wednesday, July 24, at the Reggie Lewis Center at Roxbury Community College, 1350 Tremont street, Roxbury. Viewing hours are from 1 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a funeral service from 6 to 8 p.m. A memorial service will also be held on Martha's Vineyard on Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Portuguese-American Club, 137 Vineyard avenue, Oak Bluffs.

In lieu of flowers, the Bolling family requests that donations be sent to the Royal L. Bolling Sr. Foundation, c/o Fleet Bank at Dudley Square, 114 Dudley street, Roxbury, MA 02119; Fleet Bank at Grove Hall, 470 Blue Hill avenue, Dorchester, MA 02121, or Compass Bank, P.O. Box 323, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.