Former Union County Freeholder Chester Holmes, 81, has passed away, county officials announced early this afternoon.
Holmes, a popular Rahway resident, served four terms as a member of the freeholder board. He was first elected to the board in 1997 and retired at the end of 2009 to devote more time to his private security business, Holmes Security and Investigations Inc.
“Chester was a gentleman and friend to all," said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella, who, along with Freeholder Deborah Scanlon, was elected to the freeholder board along with Holmes in 1997. "He had a unique style, with a tremendously engaging and comforting personality. He truly lived his life to the fullest and was always in good spirits.
Mirabella added that Holmes was "also an amazing elected official and public servant who made remarkable contributions to the greater Union County community during a 49-year career. We are deeply saddened by the news of his passing, and will miss him greatly.”
In addition to his four terms on the freeholder board, Holmes spent nearly 50 years in public service. He worked as a police officer for 29 years and was also a former Rahway City Councilman for eight years. In addition, Holmes served in the Army National Guard for eight years.
Former Rahway Mayor James Kennedy has fond memories of Holmes, both as a fellow politician and as a law enforcement official. Kennedy first met Holmes following a robbery at a local store when he was in seventh grade, and Holmes was on the Rahway Detective Bureau.
Kennedy happened to be in a local store during an armed robbery. A young Kennedy and the store clerk was forced to the back of the store by perpetrators and held there until police arrived. Kennedy recalls that Holmes was one of two detectives who responded to the call. The following year, Kennedy became a paper boy in town, and Holmes' house happened to be on his daily route.
Their paths crossed again decades later, when Kennedy made his foray into local politics. A Democrat, Kennedy ran off the party line for a seat on the City Council, while Holmes was aligned with local Democrats and already held a seat on the governing body. Despite the split in the party, kennedy said he and Holmes worked well together.
"We had a great relationship," Kennedy said, adding that he say Holmes not long ago, walking around Rahway park.
In fact, Kennedy had so much respect for Holmes that he suggested to the county Democratic Committee that the Rahway man run for a seat on the freeholder board.
A 50-year resident of Rahway, Holmes served as the chairman of the freeholder board's Homeland Security Committee. He also spearheaded efforts leading to improvements in the county's infrastructure, according to county officials. Not long after first being elected to the freeholder board, Holmes advocated for the implementation of a $10 million, five-year improvement plan to repair roads throughout Union County. He also supported county programs such as Open Space recreation and Historic Preservation Program, which was geared toward preserving and improving local parks and recreation areas.
He was a longtime member of the Rahway Friendship Baptist Church, and was also part of the city's NAACP chapter.
Union County Spokesman Sebatian D'Elia said Holmes had "a unique style and comforting personality."
Union County Democratic Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo was a close friend of Holmes for many years. The two talked regularly and his death came as a surprise to the longtime public official. She said that even after his final term on the board ended, Holmes remained visible to the public and was always a "people person."
"Chester was a beloved freeholder wonderful human being," said DeFilippo. "He had an extraordinary empathy for doing the right thing for people."
DeFilippo added that "Chet" was a "good man" who was beloved by his colleagues.
"It's a very sad thing," she added.
Additional information regarding Holmes' death and plans for funeral services have not yet been released. Patch will update the story when additional details become available.