Former Summit Mayor Walter Long died late last night in his home in Manchester, VT, at the age of 66.
Long, who served as mayor from 1996 to 2003, suffered from cancer for the last few years, according to Berry Versfeld, CEO of Travelong of Summit, Inc. Long was the owner of Travelong, a company founded by his father, Robert Long, in 1933. Versfeld confirmed that Long died near midnight last night. Versfeld couldn't confirm the cause of death.
Long is survived by his wife, Cathy, and their two sons, Walter, Jr. and Christopher, his daughters-in-law, Valerie Long and Yuki Murata, and five grandchildren.
A longtime resident of the Hill City, Long graduated from The Pingry School in 1963 and from Wesleyan University in 1967. From 1966-73, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. But more than that, he was a fixture in the community.
Mayor Jordan Glatt was devastated by the news.
"He was one of my closest friends, my next-door neighbor, and an unbelievable leader of our community," he said. "It's still just unbelievable to me."
Other notable Summit residents were equally saddened by the news. "I believe he masterminded the rebuilding of downtown Summit," said council member and mayoral candidate Ellen Dickson. "You don't think of the city of Summit without thinking of Walter Long. The city was first and foremost in his mind always. He headed up the Summit Chamber. During his tenure, they revitalized downtown, putting in new wiring and lights and sidewalks. The way Summit Downtown looks today is largely a credit to him and the committee that worked on it."
Council President Dave Bomgaars also had kind words for Long. "From a personal perspective, Walter appointed me to the Board of Education in 1996. I worked closely with him, especially when I was president of the board," He said. "One of our most significant accomplishments was the renovation and expansion of Summit High School. In terms of both the school district and his role with Summit Downtown Inc., where I also worked with him, he had a vision and wasn't afraid to articulate it and advocate for it. He provided much thought and creative ideas as to how the Summit Downtown looks and appears today."
His tenure as mayor was highlighted by his advocacy for his community on county government issues. When facing a proposal to relocate a juvenile justice center to Summit, Long proposed having Summit secede from Union County and move to Morris County. Long also put forward proposals to change the operation of county government, notably when he proposed the potential elimination of county government.
During Long’s two terms, he presided over Summit’s year long centennial celebration in 1999. The year was marked with a parade, a gala, a variety of community events and a community yearbook. Long’s mayoralty also saw the completion of the city’s second ever 10-year strategic plan and a comprehensive review of the city’s master plan. During his term he also named a new police chief and presided over the creation of the city’s first ever Cultural Heritage Festival.
"As I remember," Bomgaars said, "he was actually born and raised in Elizabeth and moved to Summit as a young man. He was like many of us who live in Summit... he appreciated the city's diversity. Walter recognized Summit as a regional city. Yes, it has that friendly, small-town neighborhood atmosphere, but it really is a regional community because of the New Jersey Transit train station and the large corporations here. He appreciated living in a community that had the best of both worlds."
Tom Getzendanner said, "He was a long-serving, noted public servant who was an outspoken cheerleader for the City of Summit — a great booster with unbridled enthusiasm and a good friend to me. He was everywhere and anywhere and always saw the best side of our civic life. He was outspoken in giving people recognition and praising other people's work. "
Bob Sheehan of the East Summit Association had fond memories of his old friend and civic colleague. "He never lost his enthusiasm or his sense of humor," he said. "Walter was a classy guy."
Glatt says funeral services will be held at St. Teresa of Avila at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19. Following the funeral, the Long family will greet well-wishers at a reception at Baltusrol Golf Club following the services.
The Long family asks that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent to the Other Fellow First Foundation, c/o Brett Haire, 47 Summit Avenue, Summit, NJ.
Please check back with Patch to get more details as they become available.
Heather Collura, John Celock and David Chmiel contributed to this article.