I never actually lived in Boston, only near it. But that was enough. Even as a cub crime reporter for my college newspaper in neighboring Cambridge, I came to appreciate how unique Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino really was. His face was made for politics; smooshed into skin a size too small, with a big lower lip and color that got pink easily, either from flashes of genuine anger or from ebullience. Since 1993, he presided over a city still riven by racial and class distinctions, and managed to accumulate, on the day he announces his retirement, a 70 percent approval rating.

Menino acted like a mayor of a small town, which Boston, in many ways, really is. During snowstorms, he'd be out checking on neighbors, well before Cory Booker of Newark made this cool. He generally avoided the trappings and perks of the job, living in a house in Hyde Park that was accessible to anyone. More than half of Bostonians actually met him in person; he is said to hold the Massachusetts state record, if there is such a thing, for handshakes in a single day.

Menino was great because he wasn't a smooth, slick pol. His nickname, which he detests, is "Mayor Mumbles," because he's prone to malapropisms. He's said he "simplifies" with protesters and would not seek a "candidation" as senator. He called Rajon Rondo "Hondo."

That made him great. That made him real. He will be missed.