One Fund chief lauds leadership behind Marathon fund-raising effort

Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw the distribution of $60 million to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, said today that the One Fund’s success relied on political leadership and a remarkable “collective empathy” for the victims.

“It’s amazing to me the charitable impulse of the American people,” Feinberg said while addressing a Boston University conference on lessons that might be learned from the attacks. “But if you don’t have leadership at the top you won’t get the result,” he said.

The conference drew a range of civic leaders, including Governor Deval Patrick and former Boston mayor Thomas Menino, and featured panel discussions on the response to the bombings and the recovery that followed.

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Feinberg said the One Fund demonstrated the “resilience of the city” but also provided a potential blueprint for future compensation funds. In Boston, Patrick and Menino and other political leaders established a single fund immediately and promoted it throughout the days to come, giving people a clear way to provide support.

Public meetings were also held to discuss the protocol for distributing the money, making the process transparent and increasing community involvement, he said.

“Let nobody say they didn’t know what we were going to do with the money,” Feinberg said.

Speaking earlier, Patrick said that he had anticipated some surprises while serving as governor, but never expected to have to deal with a terrorist attack during the race, which he said historically heralds the arrival of spring, not violence.

He described the first frenzied moments when he learned of the blasts from his daughter and how he decided, almost on the spot, to ask that the public “shelter in place’’ five days later when police were searching Watertown for the second bombing suspect.

Patrick said his initial plan was only to shut down MBTA service in Watertown. But then other alarming reports and rumors surfaced: a taxi with an explosive device in the Fenway; a suspect had boarded a taxi in Watertown and was heading to South Station with explosives to be used when the first train arrived at the station; and a suspect was being chased near the federal courthouse in South Boston.

“There was a whole lot more going on [than just Watertown search], and a lot of it was worrisome,’’ Patrick said, adding that some of the information was real and other reports were not. At that point, he said, the decision was made to shelter in place.

Patrick said that he never ordered the public to stay at home.

“We asked,” he said. “Frankly, it was an amazing thing and a helpful thing that people on the whole complied.’’

When the suspect was captured in a Watertown backyard some 12 hours later, Patrick applauded the response of law enforcement, especially after being told by a State Police trooper assigned to his security detail that anyone in law enforcement would willingly “put a bullet in his head.’’

“When the suspect was identified in that boat in the backyard – just inside or outside the periphery [of the search] – hundreds of heavily armed, heavily agitated law enforcement rushed ot the scene,’’ Patrick said. “Yet when the order was given to hold their fire, they held their fire. And when the suspect was placed on a gurney and wheeled out past them, not one gesture of disrespect was shown,’’ he said. “The restraint of law enforcement under those circumstances was as thing to behold.’’

Patrick also lauded the medical community for the fast response at the scene and the quality of care the wounded received after they arrived at a hospital, many of whom had suffered life-threatening injuries.

In a stirring conclusion to his nearly 20-minute presentation, Patrick described the one aspect of the bombings and their aftermath that will remain with him after he leaves office.

“The thing that lasts most for me is the extraordinary and consistent acts of grace we saw at a time when people frequently can— and sometimes do—turn to their darker side. What we did was turn to each other rather than on each other,’’ Patrick said.

“I think that example of grace, of kindness, of bigness had an awful lot to do with our healing and awful lot to do with why the world looks to us, to Boston and to this Commonwealth as an example of how to come back from a terrible tragedy like this one,’’ he said.