Former First Lady Lucinda Florio, a former public school teacher who worked alongside her late husband, Jim Florio, with grace and dignity and scored her own victories as an advocate of improving literacy in New Jersey, died today. She was 75.
Her death comes just 52 days after the death her husband.
She married Jim Florio, then a seven-term congressman preparing to make his third bid for governor, on Valentine’s Day 1988, and helped soften her husband’s image for what turned out to be landslide victories in the primary and general elections. She was a constant presence on the campaign trail, where the once shy educator became extraordinarily popular with Democratic party leader and then with voters.
As first lady, Florio also played a key role in renovations at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton. The Florio’s were the first to live there.
Lucinda Florio dropped out of school to get married before her senior year of high school, but started community college when her son as five. She spent six years pursuing a degree at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) as a part-time student, and then got a job as an elementary school teacher.
Divorced for four years, she met Jim Florio in 1984 after they became neighbors at the same apartment complex in Camden County.
“As First Lady, she broke from convention by choosing to be an active partner in governing, creating the Office of the First Lady, and earning praise in one news report for her ‘enthusiasm, curiosity, and quiet tenacity,'” said Gov. Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy. “We have lost a friend and our state has lost an exemplary leader.”
Murphy said that the former teacher “used her platform to focus on children’s literacy and health and was a steadfast champion for women’s rights and remained an advocate for numerous organizations and causes for the rest of her life.”
“It was also under her watchful eye that Drumthwacket evolved from being a stately mansion to a home that truly welcomed all New Jerseyans,” the governor said.
New Jersey flags will be directed to fly at half-staff in honor of the former first lady, Murphy said.