Bill McGonagle will be working through 5 p.m. today. He has people to see, meetings to attend, and an office to pack.

After 40 years working at the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), including the last 10 as its head, he is stepping down this week, bringing to close an impressive career in public service.

Bill McGonagle
Bill McGonagle

“It felt like the right time to make a move,” says the 67-year-old McGonagle, citing how he hit the 40-year milestone last March and how he wants to work on another issue—helping young people recover from alcohol and drug abuse—before he’s too old.

He’s also looking forward to spending time with his five grandchildren.

Few people are as connected to their workplaces as McGonagle, who grew up in the Mary Ellen McCormack public housing development in South Boston.

At the time, the development was home to mostly Irish Catholic families, reflecting the larger neighborhood. Today, there are 28 languages spoken at BHA communities, and Mary Ellen McCormack housing is one of the most diverse properties.

“Clearly, having grown up in public housing gives me a significant area of common ground if you will with the residents that I’ve been privileged to serve for the past 40 years,” he says.

His first job at BHA was as a 19-year-old janitor, emptying the garbage and cutting the grass at the West Broadway housing development in Southie before leaving to study at UMass Boston.

McGonagle later rejoined BHA, moving up to serve as executive assistant to administrator Doris Bunte, who charged him with leading the agency’s desegregation efforts in the 1980s.

One morning while his wife and kids were eating breakfast someone shot several bullets into his BHA car that was parked outside his home. This happened after McGonagle had been quoted in the Boston Globe saying the BHA would not be thwarted by threats of violence.

He was true to his word. The city's public housing became integrated. McGonagle played a critical role in the change, but he's quick to give credit to the families of color that bravely moved into the new communities under hostile circumstances.

“I’ve known Bill for 35 years and he is one of the most trusted, talented, and accomplished big city housing authority leaders in the country. His transparent, unwavering commitment to Boston’s public housing residents is extraordinary. Early in his career, his role in the successful desegregation of public housing in Boston’s white neighborhoods was an act of courage,” said Bart Mitchell, president and CEO of The Community Builders. “The Boston Housing Authority's current work to expand affordable housing, leveraging private mixed-income development by The Community Builders and others is a national model.”

BHA owns and/or oversees approximately 12,623 rental units of public housing in Boston and houses more than 25,000 people under the public housing program. It provides subsidies for about 25,000 others.

Integrating South Boston and Charleston was a major achievement, but McGonagle, who became the BHA’s top administrator in 2009, cites the agency’s recent redevelopment efforts as one of his proudest accomplishments. He lists seven projects under construction and several more that are in the pipeline, including the redevelopment of his cherished Mary Ellen McCormack development.

“A lot of balls are in the air at one time,” he says.

McGonagle will keep them moving until the end. “I plan on working and staying active right up to 5 p.m. on Friday, and then I’ll make my exit,” he says.