Gov. Patrick a True Friend to Western Mass.

They had come to cut the ribbon on the recently opened UMass Center at Springfield.

That was the official purpose of the well-attended gathering that took place late last month at the center, located in Tower Square. And while they certainly did that, this event quickly, and decidedly, turned into an occasion for the many officials in attendance to say ‘thank you’ to all that outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick has done for the university, its Amherst campus, Springfield, and this region as a whole.

While the accolades were somewhat dramatic in tone — some of those who took to the microphone called Patrick the greatest governor they’d known or the greatest in the history of the Commonwealth — they were certainly well-earned.

Indeed, while not all has gone right for the Patrick administration over the past seven years and nine months, one can certainly say that he has done more for this region — and the university — than any of his recent predecessors.

And while that’s not saying much Patrick and his administration have amassed a track record of support for this region that will, unfortunately, be a very hard act to follow.

And we’re certainly glad he did, because this region, and Springfield in particular, needed all the help it could get.

When Patrick took the helm in January 2007, the city was still scratching its way out of a deep and far-reaching fiscal morass that left economic as well as psychological scars. It needed help to get back on its feet, and the Patrick administration provided it in several ways, from steering Liberty Mutual and several hundred well-paying jobs here when the insurance giant was searching for a home for a new call center, to building a backup data center in the former Technical High School, to providing a wide range of support to help smaller businesses get to the next level.

And over the past several years, as the city has been hit with natural and man-made disasters, the governor and his administration, most notably Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development, have provided help on a number of levels to help create both plans and optimism for the future.

But maybe Patrick’s biggest gift to Springfield and this region has been his deep commitment to UMass and support of programs to make it the economic engine that everyone wants it to be and, for the most part, it hasn’t been.

The long list of initiatives he’s supported — with funding as well as inspiration to get the job done — include everything from the high-performance computing center in Holyoke to the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, to the UMass Center at Springfield and countless other projects.

It’s fair to say that the university is in the midst of a period of explosive, if not unprecedented, growth, vitality, and newfound respect as a public university, and the Patrick administration has certainly had a great deal to do with that.

His appearance at the ribbon cutting in Tower Square won’t be Patrick’s last visit to Springfield as governor. He will be the keynote speaker at the breakfast for the Western Mass. Business Expo later this month, and, knowing him, he’ll probably be out for a few other events before he leaves office.

But it’s not how many ribbon cuttings, chamber breakfasts, groundbreakings, and press conferences one attends that truly matters when assessing a governor’s contributions to a region or city. Instead, it’s one’s ability to back up words — such as when governors say they represent the whole state, not just the stretch inside Route 128 — with definitive actions that really count.

Deval Patrick has certainly been able to do that. We’re going to miss him around here.

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