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Former Bergenfield Board of Education President Eleonor Gallagher. (Photo: Art Gallagher).

Eleonor Gallagher, first woman to win a Bergenfield school board seat, dies

Mother of Republican political consultant Art Gallagher also served on the Bergen County Special Services School District Board of Education

By David Wildstein, January 23 2022 4:07 pm

Eleanor Kenny Gallagher, the first woman to serve on the Bergenfield school board and the mother of New Jersey Republican strategist Art Gallagher, died on January 22.  She was 88.

Gallagher, a former New York City public school teacher, was elected to the Bergenfield Board of Education in 1964, at age 30.  She was the top vote-getter, running 242 votes ahead of the second winner, Lyle Pirnie.  She ran about 550 votes in front of Melvin Weinberg and about 665 votes ahead of Mary Colontrelle

She became school board vice president in 1965 and president in 1968, the first woman to hold either of  those posts.

In 1966, Gallagher was among the signatories of a clergy-sponsored statement of belief circulated by the Fair Housing Committee of Bergenfield, Dumont and New Milford that said discrimination was “undemocratic and violates basic human rights and dignity” and backed equality opportunity in housing.  The statement expressed a willingness to “accept as our neighbors persons on their merit, without regard to race, creed or national origin.”

Eleonor Gallagher as a school board member in the 1960s.

When she sought re-election to a second term in 1967, Gallagher was again the top vote-getter.  Harold Hempling, who won the second seat left open after Pirnie declined to run again, came in more than 100 votes behind Gallagher.  The losing candidate, Herbert Spellman, ran about 300 votes behind Gallagher.

She did not seek re-election in 1970, saying it was time for new people.  In 1971, she formed the Independent Education Council consisting of former school board members who made themselves available to advise community leaders.

Later, Gallagher was an officer of the North Jersey Federal Credit Union.

In 1987, she was appointed to the Bergen County Special Services School District Board of Education.  A former board president, she served until 1995.

Gallagher was a graduate of St. John’s University and received a master’s degree from Hunter College.

In addition to her son, Arthur, she is survived by two sons and daughter, and six grandchildren.

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