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U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., the federal judge whose 1974 order to desegregate Boston schools led to rioting, racial turmoil and resentment that lingers even today, has died of cancer at age 79.

City Council President Jim Kelly, who opposed busing at the time, reflected a continuing anger at Garrity.

"Judge Garrity is obviously going to be remembered as the man who played an enormous role in destroying education in the Boston public schools," he said.

Others see his legacy differently, however.

"Thousands of black children in Boston had an opportunity for a better education because of Judge Garrity," said U.S. District Judge A. David Mazzone.

A father of four, Garrity died of cancer in his Wellesley home Thursday with his family around him, Mazzone said Friday.

Busing was ordered to achieve more balanced racial populations in the city's schools, and violent protests ensued, particularly in the South Boston and Charlestown neighborhoods, as minority students were bused into predominantly white areas.

"I think it is ironic that (Garrity's death) has happened when the school system has come full circle from his decision," said City Councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen, a busing opponent who was a high school freshman when the court order went into effect.

This year, the Boston School Committee voted to end busing after a group of white parents filed a lawsuit, claiming the city's policy discriminated against their children. Under the new plan, effective in September 2000, race will no longer be considered in assigning schools.

Before the legal challenge, city officials had been considering abandoning busing in favor of neighborhood schools because white flight and a burgeoning immigrant population have dramatically changed the racial makeup in many parts of the city. Blacks, Hispanics and Asians now comprise about 85 percent of the city's 64,000 public school students, up from about 48 percent 25 years ago.

In the busing days, feelings toward Garrity were often hostile, with him even receiving death threats.

In an interview last December, Garrity said he still received letters and e-mails in response to his busing decision.

Garrity remained firm in his decision, overseeing the case for years.

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