PARSIPPANY — Henry N. Luther III, well-respected attorney and statesman, died peacefully on Saturday, May 13.
He will always be remembered as a man of integrity. He was born in Teaneck to a railroad engineer, Henry N. Luther, Jr. and a housewife, Mary (nee Phelan).
He was raised in Jersey City. In his youth, he developed a love of swimming that he kept all of his life. He was recognized as a Lincoln High School and Jersey City YMCA champion. He held many jobs as a lifeguard, including a stint at the famed salt-water pool at Palisades Amusement Park.
Henry enlisted in the United States Marines Corps in 1952 and was sent for recruit training at Parris Island, S.C. and received recognition as the Outstanding Member of his platoon. He served during in the Korean conflict and received a Good Conduct Medal on January 16, 1955 for his honest and faithful service in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant in 1955. He said he benefited more from his time in the Marine Corps than at any other experience in his life. Henry’s service taught him the value of standing on his own two feet but also stressed the importance of having individuals around you on whom you can depend. Before being deployed overseas, he met his wife, Irene (nee Johnson), through a Marine buddy. After a short courtship, the couple married on November 29, 1952.
After his honorable discharge, he worked nights as a Signal Operator on the Pennsylvania Railroad and during the day attended Rutgers University and, later, Rutgers Law School. He graduated in 1961 and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar. He began his law career with the Law Office of Steven Neville, Denville.
He moved his young family to Parsippany-Troy Hills in 1962. Henry was asked if he would be interested in running for council on the Democratic ticket. After discussing it with his wife, Irene, he decided to “throw his hat in the ring.”
He was elected to the Township Council and then selected to be the Council President. Upon the untimely death of Mayor John E.J. Walsh, Henry was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late mayor. He was then elected in a general election in 1967 and re-elected in 1969. Although he was a popular mayor he did not run for re-election in 1973, because he believed that elective office should not be a lifetime appointment. At the time, he announced his decision to not seek re-election, Daily Record reporter Mike Stoddard wrote: there is little doubt Luther would have been re-elected if he chose to run, but it takes guts to admit that public service is a trust and a duty.
After completing his second term as Mayor, he resumed the practice of law, but only briefly. In 1975, he went to Trenton for the first of several jobs in the administration of Governor Brendan T. Byrne. Henry first served as Director of the Lottery Commission, then was asked to serve as the Governor’s Executive Secretary. In 1977, he left State government to serve as Campaign Manager for Governor Brendan T. Byrne’s re-election campaign. After leading the Byrne campaign to victory, he returned to the practice of law with a well-established Morristown law firm, that was renamed Dillon Bitar and Luther. When Mimi Letts became Mayor of Parsippany in 1994, she appointed Dillon, Bitar & Luther as the Township Attorney.
On December 9, 1977, Henry was sworn in as the New Jersey Commissioner for The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a bi-state agency. In nominating Henry, Governor Byrne said he was recognizing Henry’s skill as an administrator, mediator and negotiator, which would assure that the public interest would be well represented. At the time, Henry down-played his talents and told a reporter that he was reluctant to take the position because he gets seasick. He told the Governor he would only take the appointment if he was assured he would not have to board any ships. He served on The Waterfront Commission until 1983.
His greatest role in life began in 1982 when he became “Poppy.” He zealously accepted the role as a lifetime appointment. While he was very accomplished at his prior positions, he was unrivaled as Poppy. Many people, who witnessed or were regaled with his adventures with his grandchildren joked, “In my next life I want to come back as one of Henry’s grandchildren.” Henry loved to play cards with his grandchildren. It would start as a match game when they were young, with two or three cards, and eventually they all would play 10-card Gin Rummy. He also had a love for the New York Times crossword puzzle, which the grandchildren also came to love. He always stressed the importance of reading to his children and grandchildren. Whether it was a newspaper or a book (or two) he always had something to read wherever he went.
Henry was predeceased by his beloved wife, Irene, and his son, Matthew. He is survived by his daughter, Patty; his son, Michael and his wife, Pegeen; his grandchildren: Cerissa Cafasso, Lauren Luther, H. Nicholas Luther IV, Connor Luther, and Matthew Luther; and, many cherished nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sisters: Jean Sunyak, Marilyn Reilly, and Joan Goceljak. In addition to his family, Henry is survived by his companion, Marge Sullivan of Hopatcong.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend his visitation on Saturday, May 20 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Par-Troy Funeral Home, 95 Parsippany Road.
A Memorial Service to honor his life will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in his name to the Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library Foundation.