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December 4, 2013


Essex County Democratic Chairman and Essex County Register Passed on October 29th
(Newark, NJ) – The late Philip Thigpen, Sr., of East Orange was remembered in a moving ceremony on Wednesday, December 4th, at the Hall of Records.  Known as a political leader, business executive, entrepreneur, athletic champion, husband, father, son and friend, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders in acclamation sponsored and presented the Board’s In Memoriam Commendation to Mr. Thigpen’s widow, Ernestine, granddaughter Amanda and son Rick.

Ernestine Thigpen of East Orange (center), the widow of the late Philip Thigpen, Sr., received an In Memoriam Commendation from the Freeholder Board at its Wednesday, December 4th, meeting.  She is pictured above with (l to r) her son, Richard (Rick) Thigpen, her granddaughter, Amanda Thigpen, Freeholder President Blonnie Watson, Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold and Freeholder Brendan Gill. Back Row (l to r); Freeholder Leonard Luciano, Freeholder Gerald Owens and County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

In her opening comments Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson lamented, “Tonight I stand with mixed emotions, because our hearts are still heavy from the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Philip Thigpen, Sr., yet we are able to celebrate the legacy and accomplishments of an icon that stood in our midst.”

Phillip Thigpen, Sr., was born and raised in Rahway and attended the Rahway public schools system. He excelled academically and athletically and became one of the first African Americans to attend Seton Hall Preparatory School in South Orange.  He hit his stride there as a track star and was pursued by many colleges, including Yale, but chose to remain close to home.  At Seton Hall College, he became National AAU 1,000 yard champion in 1948, and three-time IC4A champion.  He earned a degree in business administration and subsequently completed his Master of Arts degree at St. Louis University.  These achievements led to his election to the Seton Hall Prep Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as the Seton Hall University Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1950, Mr. Thigpen met a lovely Howard University student, Ernestine Blount, whom he wed in 1952. From this blessed union of sixty-one years there are three sons; Phillip Jr., David, and Richard (Rick).

Professionally, Mr. Thigpen had extensive business experience; as owner of a florist shop in Newark; Executive Vice President of Leon N. Weiner & Associates a private real estate development in Wilmington, Delaware; Vice President at Urban Data Systems in Newark; and he worked  several years at the Newark Housing Authority.  He also served as President of the South Jersey Homebuilders Association and Executive Director of the Camden City Centre Corporation.

Mr. Thigpen became involved in politics, attending the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.  One crowning achievement in politics for Mr. Thigpen was helping his lifelong friend Donald M. Payne become New Jersey’s first African-American U.S. Congressman in 1988.  He was elected Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee in 2003, and was re-elected to this position three times.

Mr. Thigpen’s public service included positions as Essex County Register of Deeds & Mortgages, Freeholder District III, Director of the Essex County Planning and Economic Development Department, and Councilman in East Orange.  He was a member of New Jersey’s Electoral College in the 1996 presidential election and as its president, in 2012; he had the honor of casting New Jersey’s 14 electoral votes for President Barack Obama.

He was known as a bridge-builder and fundraiser in New Jersey politics, having good relations with everyone from President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to local leaders. Besides being a “political junkie,” he loved action movies, professional baseball, Seton Hall games, trips to Martha’s Vineyard, and long walks. On the basketball court, he was known for his mean left-handed hook-shot.

County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo attended the presentation and noted of Mr. Thigpen, “He represented us not only in Essex County but the entire State very well.” DiVincenzo went on to say, “He was a man with wisdom, someone to count on for advice. No question, we will miss him.”

Rick Thigpen, Mr. Thigpen’s youngest son, spoke on behalf of the family and thanked the Board for the recognition. In reference to his father, he said, “It is impressive to see him appreciated in public, the way we appreciated him in private.” He further stated that his father set the bar high for them and he hopes that they can live up to his memory.

In a moment of reflection and remembrance each freeholder present shared comments of experiences, fond memories and advice received from the tutelage of Philip Thigpen, Sr. Political colleague, former business partner and distant relative William D. Payne, Deputy Chief of Staff, remembered him with a great deal of respect and as a great thinker. A bouquet of flowers was presented to his widow, Ernestine who was also accompanied by her granddaughter Amanda.

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For Additional Information:
Kathy R. Brown, Research Analyst
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders


Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695