Shirley Rice, the wife of State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark), died on Monday evening. She was 76.
“As a college administrator, Shirley had a tremendous impact on her students. As a friend to so many, she was always somebody that they could turn to,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “She will be greatly missed by those who had the honor of meeting her and the many people she helped through her career and her friendship.”
Former Gov. Richard Codey, perhaps Senator Rice’s closest political ally, said that Shirley Rice “has already joined the Democratic Party in heaven.”
“When Senator Rice told me last night about Shirley’s passing, I knew Ron and the entire Newark community had suffered a great loss,” Codey said. “She was a wonderful human being who was a constant presence in Ron’s life, and one of the sweetest and kindest people you could ever meet. She was a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother. Shirley was well respected higher education professional, especially at Essex County College where she served as dean of students, and throughout the entire community.”
In addition to her husband, Rice is survived by her step-children, former Newark City Councilman Ronald C. Rice, and Yuki Rice Faison.
Ronald C. Rice said his mother always gave him good advice growing up — “always with a smile on her face and always, as she joint parented me growing up, with a firm word that she would punctuate with ‘that is just my opinion, you can do what you want since you think you are grown.'”
“She loved my father with all of heart and was the only person that I knew that could ever make him take a step back, re-evaluate and apologize or make amends, or simply laugh and make him go mute,” he said on Faceboook. “When they were not together, he talked about her. When they were together, their interactions would make you laugh and smile because they genuinely made each other happy. For over 35 years, they were inseparable in love.
Rice asked that his father be given time to mourn.
“It is not every day that a man loses his rib,” he said.
The Rice’s have been married for 35 years, according to State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), a longtime friend.
“My heart goes out to Senator Ron Rice and his family as they mourn Shirley’s sudden passing. Her loss is truly tragic for all who knew her – especially her husband and children,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “By all accounts, she was a smart, kind person who helped NJ students and loved her family dearly. My thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney sent his condolences to Rice.
“With grace, intelligence and humility, Shirley Rice was a source of strength and inspiration for everyone who knew her,” said. “In this time of grief, I hope the Rice family finds comfort in the knowledge of the timeless impact Shirley had in the lives of so many.”
Senate President Pro-Tempore Teresa Ruiz said that Shirley Rice “was a beloved wife, mother and grandmother, who brought light into the lives of all those who knew her.”
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. called Rice “a dedicated mother, kind friend, and passionate advocate for students.”
“Shirley’s loss will be felt by all who knew her,” Kean said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rice family during this difficult time.”
New Jersey Democratic State Chairman John Currie recognized Rice as an “accomplished school administrator who made a positive impact on thousands of young men and women during her career.”
“She will be greatly missed and our thoughts and prayers are with the Rice family during this tragic time,” said Currie.