Essex County Democratic Committee, Inc. | The Life of the Late Philip Thigpen
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The Life of the Late Philip Thigpen

The Life of the Late Philip Thigpen

April 16, 2014
Contact: Anthony Puglisi, 973-621-2542
Lauren Shears, 973-621-1590


Thigpen Served as Essex County Register and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman

Newark, NJ –
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated a bronze plaque honoring the life and legacy of the late Essex County Register and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Philip A. Thigpen on Wednesday, April 16th. The plaque was placed on the promenade in the Essex County Government Complex to raise awareness about Mr. Thigpen’s contributions to Essex County. He was a resident of Montclair when he passed away on October 29, 2013, at the age of 87.

“Well respected and universally admired, Phil Thigpen made his mark on Essex County. He was a man of principle, dedicated to improving the world in which we live,” DiVincenzo said. “At the time of his passing, he was Essex County Register and Chairman of the Essex County Democratic County Committee, and prior to that, served the community as an East Orange Councilman and County Freeholder. The bronze plaque will be a fitting tribute to him and raise the awareness of current and future generations about the many contributions he made to the people of Essex County and New Jersey,” he added.

“I feel like all of Essex County is part of the Thigpen family today. I can’t tell you how much this means to me and my family. So many people have been supportive,” Thigpen’s son, Rick, said. “It’s remarkable that someone I called ‘Dad’ will be remembered like this,” he added.

Many elected officials paid their respects to Mr. Thigpen, characterizing him as a strong leader, gentleman and father figure.

“Phil was one of the people who helped me get to where I am today. His approval always meant a great deal to me and he was always a first-class person. He had a positive impact on all of us,” Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. said.

“I want to thank Joe DiVincenzo and the entire county for honoring our friend,” Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones said. “Phil had a way of being a paternal influence that calms individuals. His mentorship and friendship is so impactful on me,” he noted.

“Phil Thigpen stands as a tribute to fairness. His door was always open and he was always inclusive of everyone. He was always about forming partnerships and relationships so people in Essex County had a fair chance,” NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.

“He always epitomized chivalry because with Phil Thigpen, chivalry was not dead. He opened doors, pulled your seat out. He was always the consummate gentleman,” Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver said.

“Phil was a powerful leader and true gentleman. He was a man of great character who allowed all of us to participate in our own way without having the divisiveness,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson pointed out.

Former Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Ray Durkin share the story of how Mr. Thigpen arranged for the funeral of Seton Hall University athlete Walter Dukes, who died penniless and alone. “He was a family man who respected everyone. That was the kind of person he was,” Durkin said.

“I appreciate Joe DiVincenzo remembering our Essex County legends and certainly Phil is one of them,” Assemblyman and former Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Thomas Giblin said. “As chairman, Phil was like a father figure, constantly looking after our welfare and setting high standards for us as public servants,” he added.

“Two of the most influential people in my life were the late Congressman Donald Payne Sr. and Phil Thigpen. They showed me guidance. Phil’s legacy will be how he brought people together,” NJ State Democratic Party Chairman John Currie said.

The bronze plaque begins with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” It continues: “Phil Thigpen was an accomplished man, with the ability to bring all sides to the table. Recipient of the Essex County Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, he personified both the spirit and the substance of the civil rights leader, soft-spoken yet determined to accomplish his goals with grace and dignity. That is the manner in which he led the Essex County Democratic Committee as Chairman for 12 years, served as an elected East Orange Councilman, County Freeholder and Register and worked to develop low- and moderate-housing. Successful in both the private and public spheres, a track star in high school and at Seton Hall University, he was a gentleman with a kind heart, a devoted husband and adoring father and grandfather, who spent a lifetime helping to break down racial barriers and bring people of good will to common solutions. He will be missed.”

Philip Thigpen was elected in 2009 to serve as Essex County Register and lead the Essex County Office of Register of Deeds and Mortgages in Essex County. Mr. Thigpen also was Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee, a position he was first elected to in 2001 and to which he had been re-elected three times. Mr. Thigpen previously served as Essex County Freeholder and Councilman in East Orange. While serving as Director of the Essex County Department of Planning and Economic Development, he was responsible for the development and implementation of fiscal and administrative policy in issues such as economic and physical planning and solid waste disposal.

From 1980 to 1987, he was Vice President of Urban Data Systems, Inc. in Newark, a computer forms manufacturer. Prior to joining Urban Data Systems, Mr. Thigpen was Executive Vice President of Leon N. Weiner & Associates, Inc., a real estate development firm based in Wilmington, DE, where he ran a joint venture with Campbell Soup and RCA to develop low- and moderate-income multi-family properties in the East and Midwest. He was a member of the National Association of Homebuilders and was Chairman of its Affirmative Action Committee.

Mr. Thigpen served on numerous boards, commissions and committees. Most notable was serving as President of the Electoral College in the presidential election in 2012 and as a member in the 1996 presidential election. He was a member of the 2012 Congressional Redistricting Commission, the State Democratic Committee, the NJ Health Care Administration Board and was a former member of the Charter Study Commission, which recommended Essex County institute a County Executive-led government.

Mr. Thigpen received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Seton Hall University, earned a Master’s Degree from St. Louis University and was an Urban Fellow at Rutgers University. He had a stand out athletic career in high school and college. At Seton Hall Prep, Mr. Thigpen was a two-time national champion in the 880-yard run and, at Seton Hall University he was a national champion in the half-mile and a three-time national champion in the 1,000 yard run. In recognition of his athletic accomplishments, he was inducted into both the Seton Hall Prep and Seton Hall University Athletic Halls of Fame, where he also was Vice President of the University’s Alumni Association.

Mr. Thigpen is survived by his wife, Ernestine; three sons, Philip, Jr. and his wife Michelle Jean, David and his wife Veronica, and Richard and his wife Natalie; and four grandchildren, Amanda Joyner, Caroline Patricia, and Madeline and August Thigpen.

Several buildings and open spaces in the Essex County Government Complex have been named after prominent people who have influenced the development of Essex County. The park next to the Historic Courthouse and statue in front of the Hall of Records honor Barringer High School graduate and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.; a plaza named for Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks is located in front of the Essex County Veterans Courthouse; the plaza behind the Veterans Courthouse is named for the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, who was the first African American Congressman in New Jersey; and the promenade on the south side of the Hall of Records is named for former New Jersey Governor and Essex County Prosecutor Brendan Byrne. The Veterans Courthouse and the Essex County Veterans Memorial Park are named as a tribute to the men and women who have defended our country and freedoms while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Essex County LeRoy F. Smith, Jr., Public Safety Building is named for LeRoy Smith, a Newark resident who served as Deputy Director of Emergency Medical Services for the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey for 38 years before retiring in 2007. In Brennan Park is a monument recognizing the late Charles Cummings, who served as the official Newark historian and librarian with the Newark Public Library for over 40 years. The plaza in front of the Historic Courthouse is named for former Essex County Prosecutor James Lordi. There are also bronze plaques in the promenade recognizing Lena Donaldson Griffith, a cultural arts and civil rights pioneer in Newark and Essex County; the late Raymond Brown, a civil rights leader and long-time attorney; and the late Superior Court Justice Thomas “Timmy” McCormack, who was one of the authors of the County’s current Administrative Code and Freeholder By-Laws.

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