The auditorium at the County College of Morris student center had few empty chairs and few dry eyes as the personal and political family of Sen. Anthony R. (Tony) Bucco (R-25) paid tribute to the beloved public servant.
Bucco died in mid-September after battling throat cancer early in the year. A heart attack unexpectedly claimed his life on Sept. 16.
The family held a private funeral and scheduled the public memorial for Sunday, Oct. 6.
Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, Tony’s son, served as master of ceremonies for the memorial. He introduced former Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) and current members of Congress Tom Malinowsky (D-7) and Mikie Sherrill (D-11) and other dignitaries.
Former Gov. Chris Christie sent a video tribute. He noted he had to be at Providence College for parents’ weekend for his son, Patrick, and that Tony Bucco would approve of him putting family first.
The two ran against each other in the crowded primary to replace Frelinghuysen in the state Assembly, Christie noted.
“He beat me pretty bad,” the former governor commented, noting Bucco told him if he hadn’t lost that race he would never have become governor.
“He was a huge supporter of me as U. S. Attorney,” Christie said.
Bucco’s campaign slogan was always “When he’s in Trenton, you’re in Trenton” and Christie said that was always true. Constituent services came first.
As senior member of the Senate budget committee during Christie’s first tough budget fight, the Governor said Bucco told him, “don’t ever make me do that again.”
He told Anthony Bucco one of his father’s proudest moments was when the younger Bucco was sworn in to his old Assembly seat.
Senate President Steve Sweeney spoke movingly about his friend and occasional rival.
“He was a throwback,” Sweeney said. “When he gave you his word, you could take it to the bank.”
Forever Lake Hopatcong
“He drove me out of my mind about Lake Hopatcong,” Sweeney said, referring to Bucco’s famous devotion to the lake. “I told him, I’m almost in Delaware, what do I know about Lake Hopatcong.” But he applauded Bucco for forming the Lake Hopatcong Commission.
“He was the last great statesman and a great person,” Sweeney said. “He had one hell of a life.”
Sweeney noted Bucco was a very close personal friend. “It’s going to be almost impossible to replace him.”
State Senator Tom Kean Jr. (R-21) spoke of Bucco’s deep love for his community, his county and his state. “He understood public service,” Kean said, “Some people call that old school. He believed in doing the right thing, party didn’t matter.”
“He was a man of deep faith,” Kean said. “As busy as he was the started every day by going to Mass. He started every day as a humble servant of God.”
Although Bucco was perhaps most known for his dedication to Lake Hopatcong, there were other things he cared deeply about, Kean said. He noted the Safe Haven Law, which allows mothers to bring newborns to firehouses with no repercussions. Bucco also cared about disability rights, education, and affordability.
Addressing Bucco’s family, his wife, Helen, Anthony and his wife, Amy, and grandchildren Anthony III (Rocco) and wife, Josie; Lauren and her husband Brian Haggart, and Jenna, Kean said, “I hope your pain is eased by knowing how much he meant to all of us. It was a life well lived. He left nothing on the table.”
Michael DuHaime ran Bucco’s first Senate campaign. He noted his experience consisted of driving a Zamboni and delivering for his father’s beauty supply business: “I knew every beauty salon and barber shop in the district.”
“That race changed my life,” DuHaime said. He learned from Bucco’s example of knocking on doors.
He spoke of fielding phone calls from Tony and Anthony Bucco, each complaining about what the other was doing wrong.
Sheriff James Gannon, who knew Bucco his entire life and went to school with Anthony, spoke about how the Senator remembered everyone’s name and made everyone feel important.
Anthony Bucco read the eulogy he delivered at the family funeral service at the request of his mother. The Buccos were married for 60 years. “She gave him the freedom to soar,” he said.
He also spoke about his father’s devotion to the family, especially his grandchildren. Rocco, being the first born (and a boy was a star), especially when he went into the family business. Then came Lauren, “the first little girl in the family, everything went from blue to pink, but he knew you could take care of yourself.”
“Jenna,” he said to his youngest, “you were a handful, but he knew how to handle you and you were there for him at the end.”
“I am such a lucky son to have had him as long as I did,” he said.
“He loved Boonton, the drum corps, the fire department and police department, all the first responders.”
Anthony Bucco said he was proud to serve with his father in the Statehouse, where he always called him Senator.
“We cherished the joint sessions where we sat together for addresses.”
“It isn’t easy losing a father,” he said, “It’s even harder when he’s your best friend.”
During the closing prayer, Fr. Michael Drury, the chaplain for the U.S. Secret Service and the NJ State Police said, “The road to Heaven is made by making sure no one falls through the cracks. He did that.”