Fenway Neighborhood Leaders and Elected Officials Remember John Bookston

 As an always engaged and sometimes outspoken champion of his community, the late John M. Bookston Jr. left an impact on the Fenway that won’t soon be forgotten by those who knew him from the neighborhood.

​Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association board, first got to know Bookston in about 2015, when Bookston became very active in neighborhood development meetings after he retired from teaching. (Before teaching, Bookston took the LSAT and graduated from a math program offered by Harvard Law School; he then spent a long and successful career in public law, including stints working for the ACLU and the EPA, said Horn.)

​Bookston joined the Fenway Civic board in 2016 and subsequently served as the group’s representative to ADCO Boston (Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations).

“He was just a nice guy,” Horn said of Bookston. “He was a unique idealist and really cared about affordable housing and equal rights. He had a real sense of social justice.”

Bookston was also active in the Fenway NIC (Neighborhood Improvement Committee), which operated under the auspices of

Berklee College of Music. He was still tutoring up until the time of his death on Oct. 8 at age 76.

During neighborhood cleanups, Bookston took a hand-on role, working alongside Northeastern students, mulching trees and hauling bags of soil. Bookston’s enthusiasm and dedication to these tasks soon made him a role model to the college students on what it means to take care of your community, as well as on the value of seeing a job through to completion, without seeking any personal recognition, said Horn.

“You can’t replace a man like that, and it’s hard to find someone [like Bookston] that isn’t in it for themselves and is in it for the right reasons,” added Horn.

Marie Fukuda, co-chair of Fenway Civic Association’s Parks and Open Space Committee, said Bookston was always the first person to show up for the biweekly Fenway Cares food distribution program, and he was always contrite when he couldn’t be there, even when it was for a medical appointment.

“Why he’s leaving such a big hole for so many people is that just about every bit of outreach that the Fenway Civic did he was a part of,” Fukuda said of Bookston. “I think the reason why he impressed me so much is that usually you have someone who does a part of civic life, but he believed in civic engagement and reflected it at every level, from park cleanups and tree-mulching, to outreach, to people who needed food and support, to showing up for zoning and development meetings. He was consistent and committed, and his voice was always clear and committed in his values.”

Perhaps the life lesson that Bookston best embodied, though, according to Fukuda, was that “dialogue and participation are what builds a better community.”

Reflecting on Bookston and his civic contributions to the Fenway neighborhood over the years, Matthew Brooks, vice president of the Fenway Civic Association board, wrote in an email: “John made activism and volunteerism pillars of his life and was dedicated to seeking out new opportunities for civic engagement in a variety of causes of interest to him. Throughout the year he could be found tutoring and offering homework help at the community center, mulching tree pits, and attending innumerable meetings.”

Sen. William Brownsberger said, “John was someone who was not only very involved in the community but also in many advocacy campaigns for housing justice and criminal-justice reform.”

Bookston brought an abundance of passion to the issues he cared about, especially helping those in need, said Sen. Brownsberger, and he “spent his life making a difference in the lives of others.”

“John was very connected to the community of the Fenway, and I know that so many people in that community who knew him are grieving his loss right now,” said Sen. Brownsberger.

Remembering Bookston, Rep. Jay Livingstone wrote, “John was constantly thinking about and working towards improving our community. I greatly enjoyed working with him and will miss him.”

Likewise, District 8 City Councilor Sharon Durkan wrote in a statement: “John Bookston was a quiet yet forceful leader in any community he was a part of. His smile could disarm anyone, I think because you could see the smile in his eyes — like when he looked at you he was seeing all the good that was there. He looked at his community the same way, with intense and earnest optimism. It wasn’t just his attitude, though, that made his community a better place. John’s dedication to volunteerism in every space was taken to its full. In the Fenway, he could be counted on to be seen on street outreach calls month after month, and that was just one instance of his volunteerism.

Additionally, Councilor Durkan wrote that attending Bookston’s funeral service on Oct. 12 at Temple Israel made abundantly evident  “that he carried his optimism and dedication into every space of his life, not just the civic spaces for which we are indebted to his service, and that “he will be so greatly missed by the community.”

Councilor Durkan added that her office is now committed to “find a way to honor his legacy in the neighborhood. “

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