Flags will fly at half-staff for one week to honor the life of former State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark), who died yesterday at age 77 after a long battle with cancer, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered today.
“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Senator Ron Rice, a man whom I was proud to call a partner and a friend,” Murphy stated. “New Jersey has lost a champion who leaves behind a legacy of compassion and courage. We will continue to strive for equity and fairness in this state, remembering at each step of the way that these were the values that defined his leadership. Tammy and I send our heartfelt condolences to all of Senator Rice’s loved ones.”
Under an executive order issued by the governor today, U.S. and New Jersey flags will be lowered today and remain in that position until March 23.
Rice spent nearly 36 years in the State Senate, the longest of any other Black legislator in New Jersey history. Just three other lawmakers in state history had served in the legislature longer than Rice.
“Senator Rice was a courageous and fierce advocate, not just for his constituents, but also for underrepresented and underserved communities throughout the state,” Murphy said. “Throughout his time in the legislature, Senator Rice shined a light on racial inequities and refused to shy away from tough issues.”
Murphy called Rice “a man of principle who led with integrity, compassion, and a commitment to the greater good.”
In a column for the New Jersey Globe today, Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole, a former Republican state senator from Essex County, wrote that “there will never again be someone who can speak out about those issues from Ron’s unique perspective – a man born in the South when Jim Crow laws discriminated against him and his family.”
“Senator Rice’s point of view was shaped from an early age as an eyewitness to a horrible part of our nation’s history. He experienced what it was like to attend segregated schools, use segregated bathrooms and water fountains, and be forced to sit in the back of the bus.,” he said. “Our State’s future will undoubtedly see other effective leaders who will follow in Ron’s footsteps as the voice of those who oppose bigotry … people will wear his shoes, but never completely fill them.”