Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Walter Kavanaugh Dies

(Update: 01/11/08, below)

Senator Walter J. Kavanaugh, a 74 year old just-retired Republican state senator here in New Jersey, passed away earlier this evening at Somerset Medical Center. He had had a long illness. Walter will truly be remembered as a witty and caring individual, who was beloved on both sides of the aisle.

He married the former Carole Pahler in 1960. They had two children, Mary Jo, born in 1962, and Kathryn who was born in 1968.

Walter's final legislative term in the Senate ended just yesterday. He will be succeeded by former Assemblyman Christopher (Kip) Bateman, who was elected to the seat this past November.

According to Fitzgerald's Legislative Manual, Walter had served in the New Jersey legislature for 32 years, first for eleven terms as an Assemblyman, from 1976 until 1998, and then as the Senator, succeeding Jack Ewing when the latter retired from the Senate. In both capacities, Walter represented the 16th legislative district, which included portions of Morris and Somerset counties in central New Jersey.

Walter was born in Bound Brook on June 30th, 1933, and attended schools in Somerville before attending and graduating from the University of Notre Dame. He served as an officer and pilot in the United States Air Force in the mid 1950's.

In his early public career, Walter served on the Somerville Board of Education, including serving as Board President for five years. He was also on the Somerset County Board of Mental Health, and the Somerset County Park Commission for several years.

Fitzgerald's also notes that the Senator was "a life member and past president of the Somerville First aid and Rescue squad," served on the boards of the Somerset Medical Center, the county's Council on Alcholism, "and the Board of Regents of St. Mary's College of Notre Dame."

That connection to Notre Dame was an enduring source of pride to the Senator, a fact that would most assuredly become known to anyone who ever spoke to him for any length of time.

A close friend of Walter's, former Assemblyman Dick Kamin tells a wonderful story about Walter from back in the summer of 1993, when both were serving in the General Assembly. The two of them had been designated as representatives from New Jersey, among a group of 18 or so delegates from 14 different states, who traveled to South Africa at the time the determination was being there made to hold elections with universal suffrage, as a consequence of the dismantling of the apartheid system.

They were traveling in Johannesburg, and visited a day care center for 4 5 and 6 year olds in the area of Soweto. The area was very poor and there was dirt flooring in the school. Dick said the first thing Walter did when he noticed how poor the school was, was to immediately pass the hat among the participants, and he then turned the proceeds over to the school.

Then Walter sat down with the little children and proceeded to start teaching them to sing "Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame."

That was Walter. Anyone who ever knew him will miss him!

Update: In his lede in the Star-Ledger today, 01/11, Tom Hester picked up on the story we posted Wednesday, above about Walter Kavanaugh and Dick Kamin traveling in South Africa, back in 1993. He quoted Dick saying, "It's one of my favorite stories of Walter's caring and dedication."

Today, we also posted another story about just how funny Walter Kavanaugh could be in a comment on the Politickernj announcement post from back on Wednesday evening. Tom Kean, Jr. had been quoted on the post to the effect that Walter could even find the humor in a dry budget hearing.

He sure could! And I have the shirt to prove it!

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