Former Mass. Governor Francis Sargent Dies at 83
Friday, October 23, 1998; Page C08
Francis W. Sargent, 83, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts who won a reputation as an environmental activist but was defeated in his reelection bid by Democrat Michael Dukakis, died Oct. 22 at his home in Dover, Mass. The cause of death was not reported.
His tenure as governor, from 1969 to 1975, was marked by the tumultuous racial tensions prompted by school busing in the 1970s. On busing, he walked a fine line. He refused to repeal a law that recognized racial imbalance, but proposed a "freedom of choice" plan -- a one-way busing program for black children only, rather than busing for black and white students. "I think people will most remember him for the busing situation," said Carl Sheridan, a former Dover police chief. "I remember one time a bus load of demonstrators came out to Dover looking for Sargent and his house. But because the town had no street lights, they got out of the bus and were standing in the pitch black. They got back in the bus and left. Sargent was still laughing about that two weeks ago."
Before he became lieutenant governor in 1966, Gov. Sargent headed several state agencies, including a 10 year stint as state commissioner of natural resources. An avid fisherman, he had gotten interested in the environment because he was frustrated by overfishing and the use of illegal nets when he lived on Cape Cod after serving in World War II. "He was one of my heroes," said acting Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci. "He was committed to the environment, to clean air, to clean water, to open space. He was a great leader." He ran for lieutenant governor in 1966 with the campaign slogan "Put Sarge in Charge."
In 1969, he succeeded Republican Gov. John Volpe when Volpe was named U.S. secretary of Transportation under President Nixon. In 1970, Gov. Sargent defeated Boston Mayor Kevin White, a Democrat, to win the governor's office in his own right.
Gov. Sargent took the reins of the state when the budget was in turmoil because of spending increases on welfare and other benefits. He tightened rules for qualifying for Medicaid and introduced a new corporate tax. During his tenure, he also worked to build several public housing projects. He supported the state's first no-fault insurance law and a statute challenging the legality of the Vietnam War.
In 1974, he ran for a second term, but was defeated by Dukakis, who went on to serve three terms as governor and to run unsuccessfully for president in 1988.
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