A funeral was held in Pine Beach on Saturday, Dec. 15, for Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who passed away three days earlier at age 71. Bartlett was the longest-serving freeholder in New Jersey, as well as a former mayor and councilman in Pine Beach, where he and his wife, Peggy, resided.
In late summer, Bartlett announced he would end his campaign for a 14th term due to his deteriorating health. He was treated for colorectal cancer three years ago, but the disease had recently metastasized.
The Republican legislator was born in Lakewood and was in the very first graduating class at Ocean County College, where he later taught political science classes following his tenure as a history teacher at Toms River High School North.
As a freeholder, Bartlett chaired the county’s Department of Finance as well as Parks and Recreation, and was liaison to the Natural Lands Trust Fund program and to OCC. “John continually produced county budgets that would be the envy of other New Jersey counties,” an OCC press release reads. “He always ensured that funding for essential services was available to residents at an affordable cost and established an aggressive debt reduction program while still providing money for new capital projects and a stable county tax rate.”
In 2009, Bartlett returned to the OCC campus for the dedication of John C. Bartlett Jr. Hall. And in 2013, during commencement, the college presented Bartlett with the Ocean County College Distinguished Alumni Award. “Freeholder Bartlett had been an unwavering supporter of Ocean County College,” the college release states.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, too, noted, “I always considered John Bartlett a friend to Long Beach Township. He was a really great guy,” said the mayor, who knew Bartlett for 35 years, stretching back to when Mancini’s father, Jim Mancini, was township mayor. “John and my dad used to run together” during campaigns, he explained. “We still have ‘Bartlett-Mancini’ sponges (campaign giveaways) around.
“He was a strong manager, a family man and a friend to all.”
At its Dec. 12 meeting, the Surf City Borough Council held a moment of silence to honor Bartlett.
In an app.com video from the county board caucus session in which Bartlett stated his intention not to run for reelection, he remarked, “I’m a very lucky person. This has been an excellent governing body and board to work with, because you get things done. I’ve been a freeholder, at this end of the term, it will be 39 years.”
“He is the epitome of what a freeholder should be, and what a person should be,” Freeholder Virginia Haines, who had known Bartlett since 1979, said through tears. “I’m just going to miss him. I’m going to miss his guidance. I’m going to miss his talks.”
Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said on speaker phone, from a cross-country trip, “John is much more than the longest-serving freeholder. He’s also one of our longest-serving friends.”
As OCC noted, “Ocean County was John’s home, and his calling.”
— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch