John C. Bartlett, Jr., New Jersey’s longest-serving county freeholder who shepherded the county’s budget for decades as it grew to become one of the most populous in the state, has died following a battle with cancer.
“This Board mourns the loss of a special man who dedicated most of his adult life to public service,” Bartlett’s fellow board members said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
Bartlett, who served on the board for 39 years, spearheaded numerous county initiatives, including the expansion of the parks system and the preservation of immense parcels of open space.
“Freeholder Bartlett leaves an indelible mark on Ocean County and we are so very sorry that he will no longer be with us to serve our citizens and work with us as a board,” the statement said. “There are few areas of Ocean County that have not been impacted by Freeholder Bartlett’s work. For 39 years, he has served as a steward of our environment, the architect of the county budget, a champion of Ocean County College and a man truly dedicated to public service.”
Bartlett, 71, worked as a high school history teacher and, later, a professor at Ocean County College. Born and raised in Ocean County, Bartlett started his public service in 1974 when he was elected to the Pine Beach borough council. A few years later, he was elected to the freeholder board.
“He often said that being a Freeholder was the best-elected position you can have doing the most good for your constituents because you always remained close to them,” the state from the board said.
Bartlett would often intersperse personal stories of county history and his own family among the oft-mundane business conducted at board meetings. He spoke often of his father, who passed away two years ago, as well as his wife, Peg, and his children and grandchildren.
Bartlett announced in 2016 that he had been diagnosed with cancer and suspended some of his work with the board for a short period while receiving treatment. But after several months he returned and resumed his oversight of the county budget and open space acquisitions, plus the reopening of Berkeley Island County Park, which was later named in his honor. In August, he announced that he would not seek another term on the board due to his declining health. Lacey Township committeeman Gary Quinn, a fellow Republican, was elected in November to fill his seat come January.
“John’s passing is a profound and deep loss for all of us on the Board of Freeholders,” the statement said. “While he was the longest serving Freeholder in the state of New Jersey, we all had the privilege to call him our longest-serving friend. Saying goodbye is difficult for all of us. With our deepest condolences and sympathy, we keep his family in our thoughts and prayers.”