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Joseph Warren: A passionate public servant

4/7/2010, 7:43 a.m.
Blessed with a  beautiful singing voice, Civil Rights leader Joseph Warren sang solos in the Boston production of “Black Nativity.” Lolita Parker Jr.

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Blessed with a  beautiful singing voice, Civil Rights leader Joseph Warren sang solos in the Boston production of “Black Nativity.”

Joseph Warren, a longtime Civil Rights leader and father of Newton’s mayor, Setti Warren, died last month of complications from a stroke. He was 71.

“I feel extremely privileged and fortunate to have been raised by my father, Joseph Warren,” the mayor said in a written tribute. “He was a brilliant, devoted family man committed to helping those in need.

“Affecting the lives of literally thousands of people young and old through his passion for public service, my father inspired me to follow in his footsteps to try to make the lives of people better,” Warren said. “The Warren family will miss him terribly, but we are comforted by the fact that he had such a profound impact on the lives of so many people.’’

Born in Harlem in 1938, Warren received a bachelor’s degree in economics from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in social work from Brandeis. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War and later joined the Naval Reserve, retiring in 1994 as a commander.

In 1979, he organized the “Warren Commission,” a national political advocacy group that worked to improve the social and economic needs of minority communities here in Massachusetts. He served as assistant secretary for educational affairs under Dukakis’ first administration from 1975 to 1979, as an aide to Gov. Michael Dukakis from 1982 to 1986, and as a senior adviser during the 1988 presidential campaign.

Warren joined Northeastern University as a professor and director of community affairs in 1982. He served the university for more than 25 years, most recently as a special assistant to the school’s vice president for government relations.

In 1983, Mr. Warren helped create Northeastern’s Balfour Academy, which provides after-school tutoring and college preparation for children from city neighborhoods. He was also executive director of the Upward Bound program at Brandeis University and a founding member of an organization serving at-risk African American men.

In a statement, Northeastern University president Joseph E. Aoun praised Warren’s service to the university and the city.

“Joe Warren was a gifted scholar and leader who dedicated his life to enhancing the lives of others at Northeastern, in Massachusetts and around the nation,’’ Aoun said. “His belief in the power of education and the ideals of democracy were palpable. He inspired countless generations of students and many colleagues.’’

In the late 1980s, Warren founded Development and Training Associates, Inc. DATA, Inc. worked closely with Bechtel Parsons Brinkerhoff to design and implement on the job training activities for low-income adults at world-class engineering and construction companies working on the Central Artery Tunnel Project.

In addition to his wife, Martha, and son Setti,  Mr. Warren leaves a daughter, Makeda Warren Keegan of Ashland; a stepdaughter, Lea Walker Ruggiero; a stepson, Kier Walker; a brother, Harold  Jr.;  and a sister, Marlene Warren.

Material from wire services contributed to this report