Deborah Bye Kean, who served as First Lady of New Jersey with elegance and dignity from 1982 to 1990, died this morning. She was 76.
Kean was the wife of former Gov. Thomas H. Kean and the mother of Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr.
The former First Lady grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and was a graduate of Bennett College.
Tom and Debby Kean first met at a party in New York City in the 1960s and saw each other twice more before they began dating in October 1966.
She moved to Livingston in 1967 after marrying Kean, who at the time was campaigning for his first term in the New Jersey State Assembly.
During the time Tom Kean was governor, the family remained at their Livingston home and Tom Kean commuted daily to Trenton.
The former First Lady “was known to family and friends for her warm disposition and quick wit,” her family said in a statement. “An avid reader, she was a lifetime enthusiast of the performing and visual arts, avocations she shared with her husband.:
In addition to her husband and son, she is also survived by her son, Reed, her daughter, Alexandra, and her grandchildren.
“When she saw a wrong, she tried to right it,” the Kean family statement said. “She found that many state employees were struggling because of a lack of day care available for their children. She lobbied various people until she received the funds, and with those funds established a number of day care centers for the children of state employees. The largest still bears her name, The Deborah B. Kean Childcare Center.”
Mrs. Kean’s family noted that she “was noted for the renovation of the Governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket.”
“When Kean was elected, New Jersey did not have a Governor’s mansion, as their previous site Morven was given to the New Jersey Historical Society to use as their headquarters. The new site, Drumthwacket, was filled with old and tired furniture. Debby knew that New Jersey’s Governor’s mansion should be second-to-none. Therefore Debby formed a foundation, encouraged donations and soon bought wonderful antique furniture which is still admired today. She said New Jersey deserves as good of a Governor’s mansion as any other state, and she made that happen,” the statement said.
This story was updated at 4:03 PM.