‘An incredible journey’
For those familiar with the Rappaport Foundation and its penchant for raising up those most deserving of being raised, they are familiar themes. It should come as no surprise, then, that during her service as a State Representative, she was tapped on the shoulder by State House colleague and former Rappaport Urban Scholar, Rep. Kevin Honan, who insisted she apply for the Rappaport award and the Kennedy School.
“He just said, ‘You have to do this,’” she recalls. “He told me that it really allows leaders opportunities to further their education and get more granular into different issues. So I decided, you know what, I’m going to apply.”
It was 2009, and by now Linda and Bill Forry were married with two children, John and Conor, so there were practical considerations as well. Bill had also applied and been accepted to the Kennedy School, and Linda was pregnant again, so she chose to defer until after Bill had graduated in 2010 and Madeline had been born.
With the help of the Rappaport Scholarship, she began the two-year program in 2011, maintained her State Representative seat, gave birth to another daughter Norah in 2012, and completed her MPA program at the Kennedy School in 2013.
“It was an incredible journey,” she said. “I was able to take these amazing classes in the public administration space that really looked at organizational structures within various models and organizations.”
In addition to an incomparable lineup of professors such as Tom Glynn and Juliette Kayyem, Forry said she was transformed by her relationships with students from all over the world. “I made friends from all different walks of life, and I’m still in touch with some of them today.”
It was during her time at the Kennedy School that Forry learned her own state Senator, Jack Hart, had decided not to run for re-election. So what does a full-time mom and state representative and master’s student do in that case? When that person is Linda Dorcena Forry, she sees opportunities, not obstacles.
“I said, ‘That’s my seat,’” she remembers. “I had done nine years in elected office, and I was going to run for that seat.”
She doubled down on a five-month, face-to-face campaign that involved sharing her vision with anyone who would open a door in the First Suffolk District.
“We really just talked about bringing people together,” she said. “Building partnerships and coalitions, and really having people understand that we’re literally the same, right? We may look different and speak different languages, but the issues that are impacting you as a family are the same as what other people are going through as well.”
The message resonated, and every bit of canvassing mattered, because Forry won the election by a mere 378 votes over Nick Collins, who would later go on to take the seat after Forry’s five years in that office.
And while her constituency grew larger, Forry’s purpose remained focused on equity and inclusion.
While in the Senate, she served in several leadership roles, including Assistant Majority Whip, Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing, and Vice Chair of the Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs and Export Development. She was also a member of the Joint Committees on Transportation, Marijuana Policy, and Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.
She created the access and opportunity law, known today as the “Massport Model,” driving increased inclusion and diversity of businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans in state-owned land development. She simultaneously managed constituent services inquiries while strategizing her office’s coverage of nearly 40 monthly community meetings.
She remains particularly proud of the conversations she helped facilitate as Chair of the Housing Committee.
“You’ll never hear me say ‘affordable housing,’ because people think, ‘those people,’” she said. “But I’ve always said we need to create ‘housing that’s affordable’ – for our kids, who want to come back after college but can’t afford it, and for our seniors, who have given everything, but they’re priced out.
“To make progress, you have to be able to talk about it in different ways to make people understand, and that’s what I helped to do.”
A legacy of optimism
After 22 years in public service, Linda Dorcena Forry left government in 2018 to work as Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations for Suffolk Construction, with its more than 2,100 employees across the country.
It was a job seemingly tailor-made with Forry’s background and experience in mind, and it has since allowed her to help lead difficult, cross-company conversations about diversity.
“No one wants to talk about race and racism,” she said, “but we leaned into it to really help our managers and leaders and employees. We need to create teams that trust each other, and the only way is by having these uncomfortable conversations.”
And while the murder of George Floyd fueled dialogue specifically targeting race relations, Forry’s mission is to talk about diversity in all forms, including gender, veterans’ issues, sexual orientation, and even age.
“When we talk about construction on the operations side, we have a lot of mature employees who have been doing it for a long time,” she said. “So how do we make sure that the early career folks respect and learn from the longer-term employees. We need to capture that information and all the experiences they’ve had.
Forry certainly has a well-earned appreciation for all that is generational, for that which is passed down.
She has seen it first-hand in the gifts of Jerry Rappaport and the Rappaport family, whose vision has armed a legion of scholars with education and empathy that is now theirs to pass on.
“It’s about doing more because you’ve been given more,” she said. “What a visionary person, to be able to set aside the resources to allow leaders to continue their education knowing that we’re going to give back, and to really help drive the dialogue around issues that are impacting communities every day.
“I’m so grateful to Jerry and the Rappaport family, because without them I never would have thought of going to the Kennedy School.”
Forry takes that responsibility seriously, not only from the Rappaports but from her parents, the immigrants whose generosity and optimism helped fuel a career in public and private service that is laser focused on creating a better world.
“That’s how I grew up. For me, service has always been a thing.”
Despite all that is toxic in today’s world, she sees a bright future, and it starts at home. Even as she talks about raising kind children in an often-unkind world, her smile is unfailing. It’s not the smile of blind faith or far-flung hope, but a generational smile.
“It is a responsibility,” she said. “How do we teach our younger generation to be social citizens, and to be caring, and thoughtful, and to look out for each other? That’s my thing. Treat people how you want to be treated, and speak to people the way you want to be spoken to.
“You just have to be kind.”