Former Trustees Chairman Robert H. Quinn Dead at 85

Robert H. Quinn, whose long career in public service included terms as attorney general, speaker of the House and chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, died Jan. 12 in Dorchester. He was 85.

Appointed to the Board of Trustees by Gov. Edward King in 1981, Quinn served as chairman until 1986, when he was succeeded by Andrew Knowles. Quinn left the board in early 1987.

Quinn played a key role in the creation of UMass Boston, where the administration building was named in his honor.

“The University of Massachusetts Boston has lost a true friend in Robert Quinn,’” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said in the statement. “Bob was a strong advocate for access to public higher education, and as a co-founder of UMass Boston, he opened the doors to urban public higher education in our city.”

Motley noted that UMass Boston created the Robert H. Quinn Award in 1987 to honor those “who embody his ideals …We will miss Bob dearly, but we are gratified that he was able to see the university he helped found mark its 50th anniversary this year as Boston’s premier urban public research university.”

The youngest of seven children whose father died when he was 6, Quinn won a scholarship to Boston College High School, then a football scholarship to Boston College. While in college, he was stricken with a serious case of tuberculosis that hospitalized him for three years. After recovering, he finished college and went on to Harvard Law School.

Quinn was elected to the House of Representatives in 1957, and served as majority whip and majority leader before his election as speaker in 1967. In 1969, he was named attorney general by the Legislature after Elliott Richardson was named under secretary of state by President Nixon. Quinn was elected attorney general in 1970. Four years later, he ran for governor, but lost to Michael Dukakis in the primary.

As attorney general, he championed the passage of 1970 legislation, now known as “the Quinn Bill,” offering financial incentives for law enforcement officers to pursue higher education.

After serving as attorney general, Quinn co-founded the Quinn and Morris law firm, worked as a lobbyist and chaired the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.