NJ mourns deaths of accomplished figures


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Frank Lautenberg, former senator, passed away in June. He represented New Jersey in the Senate for 19 years.


This year brought the deaths of individuals who loomed large in the Rutgers community and in New Jersey.

In June, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died of pneumonia at the age of 89. He was the last remaining World War II veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate and had represented the State of New Jersey in the Senate for 19 years at the time of his death.

He led initiatives to ban smoking on airplanes, promote public transportation, prevent domestic abusers from owning guns and improve public health, according to an article published in The Daily Targum at the time of his death.

Lautenberg wrote the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which set the national minimum drinking age at 21 when President Ronald Reagan signed it in 1984.

Photo: Getty Images

Actor James Gandolfini, known for his role in “The Sopranos,” died of a heart attack in Rome, Italy.

In 2000, he helped pass legislation that set a blood alcohol level of .08 as the standard for determining whether someone is drunk.

He was a supporter of marriage equality and delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2004 strongly denouncing a bill that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“History will show that Frank is one of the most productive Senators in the history of America,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement after Lautenberg’s death.

About two weeks after Lautenberg passed away, James Gandolfini died of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome, Italy.

Gandolfini, who graduated from Rutgers with a Bachelor of Arts in 1983, achieved fame for his role of Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” a drama about the mafia in New Jersey.

His portrayal of Soprano won him three Emmy awards for “Best Actor in a Drama.” In 2007, the year “The Sopranos” went off the air, “Entertainment Weekly” named him the 42nd greatest television icon of all time.

Edie Falco, who co-starred with Gandolfini on “The Sopranos,” told CNN she was devastated by Gandolfini’s death.

“He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words,” she said.

In November, Ralph W. Voorhees, who donated to several different institutions at Rutgers, died of natural causes at the age of 87.

Voorhees, who graduated from Rutgers in 1948, was a member of a family that made large contributions to the University and bought season tickets to Rutgers football games every year, according to an article published by the Targum in November.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum was renamed in honor of Ralph Voorhees’ mother after he made a significant contribution.

Allan Maitlin, a former trustee of the Zimmerli museum, said Voorhees’ family encouraged him to be philanthropic from a young age.

“He once said when he was young [that] his father had told him, ‘You should have just enough money to be comfortable and give the rest to charity,’” Maitlin said.


By Charlie Melman

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