John Joseph “Joe” Moakley was born in nearby South Boston on April 27, 1927. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives the year that Tip O'Neil was elected to the U.S. House and John F. Kennedy was elected to the Senate: 1952.
Studying evenings, he graduated from law school at Suffolk University in 1956. According to a biography at his alma mater, “His legal education helped bring out his extraordinary character as he went on to make life better for untold numbers of people - not only his constituents, but also people across the state and around the world.”
His early political career also included positions as a state senator (1965-1970) and a Boston city councilor (1971-1972) before going on to fill the congressional seat once held by Speaker John W. McCormack. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973, Moakley proudly represented the Massachusetts’ 9th District for nearly 30 years.
As chairman of the House Rules Committee, he was one of the most powerful members of Congress. His investigation of the murder of six Jesuits in El Salvador paved the way to a peaceful settlement between the rebels and the Salvadoran government.
Moakley was considered an “average Joe” and is fondly remembered as a compassionate and capable public servant. One staffer described him this way, “A self-described ‘bread and butter’ politician, Moakley devoted himself to the bedrock concerns of his constituents: education, jobs, housing, health care, veteran’s benefits, and the prosperity of his city, his state, and his region.” Under his leadership Boston benefited from many economic and other improvements including development of the waterfront, clean-up of the harbor, funding for the “Big Dig” and third Harbor Tunnel, as well as passage of landmark legislation resulting in affordable housing.
Moakley died of leukemia in 2001.
In 2002, the John Joseph Moakley Chair for Peace and Reconciliation was established in his memory at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies. Padraig O'Malley is the first to hold the chair.