TOMS RIVER, NJ – Two months before the passing of Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, I decided to give him a call and see how things were going since he left office. It happened shortly before Christmas after the initial news broke that former Toms River Business administrator Don Guardian was planning to sue Kelaher’s successor, Mo Hill.
Mayor Kelaher and I were both Marines, so we always connected with each other on a different level, so I was comfortable with asking him some direct questions and he was comfortable giving straight-shooting answers.
When asked about his thoughts about his replacement, Mayor Mo Hill, Kelaher said he was very disappointed in Hill’s actions as mayor of Toms River.
“I wanted to run again, but they decided to run Coranato and of course, Mo, he thought it was right to be the next mayor, so he quit the club and ran off the line…they said I was too old.” Kelaher said. “Mo’s making big mistakes. Big mistakes that are going to cause big problems in Toms River. He doesn’t know what he’s doing in there. I hope he does before it’s too late.”
Kelaher said there was a reason the Toms River Republican Club never endorsed Mo Hill for Mayor, “He’s not a good people person. For this job, you have to be a people person.”
Kelaher joked, between two Marines, but said jokingly of Mo Hill’s lack of leadership, “I always joke and say Mo Hill might be an admiral, but the only bridge he’s ever commanded was the one inside his patient’s mouth.”
It was an inter-service rivalry jab and a reference to Hill, a U.S. Navy Admiral being a dentist in the U.S. Navy, but never actually commanding a naval vessel from the bridge.
When asked if he thought the allegations lodged against Hill, calling the former business administrator, Don Guardian, an openly gay man, a pillow biter, Kelaher gave Hill the benefit of the doubt.
“Oh, I hope that’s not true…if it is, then Mo has a whole new set of problems,” Kelaher said. “Don is a great man. He was a good mayor for Atlantic City and when he became available after losing his election down there, I thought it was a no brainer to bring him to Toms River. He did an outstanding job for the township while he worked for me.”
The point of my call to Kelaher was to investigate allegations against Lou Amoroso by Guardian and others, but Kelaher was reluctant to divulge what happened.
“Look, I can’t really get into that,” Kelaher said. “I demoted Lou from the position of business administrator for reasons I can’t talk about on the record, but you can probably find out if you know where to look. He has no business being the administrator and if that’s what the plan here is, I don’t think it’s a good one. There’s a reason I put him where I did.”
Kelaher spoke about the rebound of Toms River since Superstorm Sandy and how quickly much of the town’s economy came back.
“I thought we’d be hit for years to come, but the people in our town, the workers, the business owners, they all stood up to the challenge and we rebuilt together,” Kelaher said. “It was the most difficult time in my life and my professional career to go through that and I hope we never have to do that again.”
At the time, Kelaher was getting settled back into his law practice, but he said he felt like the guy time forgot.
“I’ve been so used to, you know, as a prosecutor and mayor, having everyone else do my research for me,” Kelaher said. “Now I feel like I’m on my own. I’m sitting here reading through law books for things and these young lawyers have it all on their phone, they’re running circles around me.”
“I got used to managing, now I have to get used to having to rely on myself more,” Kelaher said. “It’s hard for an old guy like me [laughs].”
Kelaher said he would also look back fondly on his time serving as Mayor of Toms River and as the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We got to do some great things, you know, things have changed so much in Toms River since I started, but we did some really great things along the way and I can’t say I would change much if anything if I could go back and do it all over again.”
Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher passed away at the age of 88 on February 23, 2021.
Tom Kelaher’s Obituary
Toms River – Thomas F. Kelaher of Toms River New Jersey passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family after a brief illness at the age of 88.
Tom was born in Jersey City in 1932. His father worked for the Milwaukee Road Railroad Company and moved the family to Buffalo, NY where Tom spent a good part of his childhood. While there, Tom worked as a paperboy, was active in the Scouts and volunteered with the Civil Defense during World War II. The family returned to Jersey City where Tom attended Saint Peter’s Prep. After graduating high school Tom enlisted in the Marine Corps PLC program in 1951 and studied at Saint Peter’s College. While in college he served in the Marine Corps Reserve and worked as a newspaper photographer for The Hudson Dispatch. While on active duty he was stationed at Camp Pendleton and later at Lakehurst Naval Air Station where he met the love of his life Caroline Finley of Toms River. Tom and Carol married in 1958 at Saint Joseph’s Church.
Tom and Carol moved to West Orange where Carol worked as a school teacher and helped put Tom through Seton Hall Law School. After graduation Governor Richard J Hughes appointed Tom the Deputy Attorney General for the state of New Jersey. Tom and Carol moved back to Toms River where he joined the law firm of Herring Grasso and Gelzer and worked as the Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor. Tom relished his time with the prosecutor’s office in the late 60’s and early 70’s and often spoke about returning one day.
Tom’s Jesuit education and time in the Marine Corp would come to define his life of service to his community, his church and his country. He followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law Joseph W. Finley and became very active in the growth of Community Medical Center where he was on the board of trustees from 1975 to 2000 and served as Chairman for 14 years. He was Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Barnabas Healthcare System and Chairman of the Board of Clara Mass Medical Center and in May 1998 he was named Hospital Trustee of the Year.
Tom devoted a great deal of his energies to Saint Joseph’s Church and was very active in the Century Club and Catholic Charities. He served as Trustee, Lector and Eucharistic Minister at St. Joseph’s for over 50 years. He was recognized at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York by Cardinal John Egan and was installed as a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher.
Tom was dedicated to local and state law-enforcement. He taught at the Ocean County Police Academy for over 30 years where he developed life-long friendships over generations of police officers and departments in the county. Throughout his successful career in private practice, he also worked as the prosecutor and township attorney for several local municipalities before finally returning to his dream job as the Ocean County Prosecutor in 2002. Tom loved his time spent with the investigators, detectives, prosecutors and all of the dedicated staff at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
After stepping down from his position with the Prosecutor’s Office, Tom, for the first time, ran for office. In 2007 Tom was elected Mayor of Toms River and went on to serve three terms and continued his lifelong mission of service to others. Tom delighted in his involvement with town hall and all the people that worked there as well as the members of our volunteer fire departments, EMTs and other government service people that shared his commitment to serving our community.
In recognition of Tom’s public service he was named Man of the Year by the Ocean County Police Chiefs Association, Toms River Rotary Club, Toms River B’Nai B’rith, the Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of the Jersey Shore and was also recognized with the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Tom is survived by his wife of almost 63 years Carol, and their four children: Patty Thompson (DrewThompson) Nancy Larrain (Santiago Larrain) John Kelaher (Chelle Kelaher) Mike Kelaher (Regan Kelaher). He will be remembered as beloved Pop Pop to his eight grandchildren Danny and Alex Thompson, Miguel and Tomas Larrain, Finley and Glenn Kelaher and Quentin and James Kelaher.