An American flag hung from two fire engine ladders forming an arch over the entrance of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Parsippany as the funeral began this morning for Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, (R-26).
Among the guests were former Governors James Florio and Christine Todd Whitman, Congressmen Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen, Gov. Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Just after 10 a.m., more than a 1,000 people were in attendance.
Mr. DeCroce’s body was carried in by 8 pall bearers and followed by his widow Betty Lou DeCroce who was flanked on either arm by Gov. Chris Christie and Mary Pat Christie.
Mr. DeCroce’s family followed in a tearful procession toward the altar.
“Alex was one of my earliest supporters,” said Whitman. “His word was his bond. You could disagree with him over certain things but once he was your friend he was always your friend… He respected a difference of opinion.”
“He was a very nice man,” said Florio. “A very active partisan, but always a gentleman…He will be missed.”
The Rev. Tony MacNaughton, Hilldale Park Presbyterian Church, Cedar Knolls, said he knew DeCroce for 41 years. He married Alex and Betty Lou.
“I watched that love develop into a team,” the reverend said. “They gave us a template I think on how to have a marriage. …Thank you Betty Lou for sharing him with us and the state. One of the ways that you can honor him the best is to use him as a model as a template. When his grandson was taken at birth I watched how he held the family together in so many ways. When you needed a problem to be solved or a wrong to be righted, Alex was who you’d call. Every day with Alex was an adventure.”
“He was the greatest man I have ever known,” said his son Paul Johannesen. “Not only was he a great legislator, but he was an even better father.”
“For the last couple of months, I have been trying to get him to slow down with his work, but he would tell me that he needed to keep doing his job because it was important to him. He has told me multiple times that this was going to be his last term and then he would retire but that was over 10 years ago. In the end, he passed away doing the job that he loved…I just wish I could have had one more lunch with him (crying–struggling to speak) so I could tell him how much I loved him.”
Richard Pompelio, executive director of the NJ Victims Law Center, said DeCroce reached out to Pompelio when his son was murdered and took up the cause to pass the Victims Rights Amendment to the NJ Constitution.
“He started the social revolution in the state of New Jersey called victims’ rights. He researched and he worked and he came up with the victims rights amendment…He did that for me. He did that for my wife whom he didn’t even know at the time. And he did it for everyone he knew and didn’t know. I don’t know how much I would have survived getting through the Victims Rights movement had it not been for Alex…I felt like I was standing on a highwire in the circus world but thank God I had a net below me and that was him.”
Gov. Chris Christie said whether you looked at his private business or you heard the words of his son, Mr. DeCroce “wanted to be in the middle of everything.”
“I thought over the last couple of days in speaking with folks how pleased Alex would be to hear the things people have said about him.
“‘He came to our home one day going door to door and asked for our vote and he’s been my friend ever since,'” Christie recalled. “All of us who run for office and get elected would love to have one person say that about us. While he was on the floor arguing, fighting, cajoling, arm-twisting, he was also just one of us. It was in his eyes. It was in his smile. It was in his incredibly firm handshake. It was in the way he carried himself and treated everyone else.”
At Assembly Minority Conference Leader Jon Bramnick’s (R-21) New Year’s Party, the governor recalled interaction with Mr. DeCroce.
“I asked him how he was feeling and he looked great and he said, ‘I’m fine but you don’t look so good…’ (Laughter) …You need to get rest some governor.’ He said ‘we have a hell of a lot to do.’
“He put his arm around me and he said, ‘I’ll be with you partner.’
“We do feel extraordinary sadness today but I want to remind you that the sadness we feel is not for Alex it’s for ourselves. Alex is in a greater place. I’m confident that he is at least, at least two Sambuca’s in with Dean as we speak.”
The ceremony lasted just over two hours. Songs included Ave Maria, Be Not Afraid, Amazing Grace.
Mr. DeCroce’s immediate family followed his casket to Gates of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.
Assemblyman Alex DeCroce was born June 10, 1936 and died Jan. 9, 2012.