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By Thomas C. Murray


I last met with Congressman Rodino and his wife, Joy, at their West Orange residence on December 16, 2004, and last spoke to both of them on April 20, 2005-- two and a half weeks before his death Saturday, May 7, 2005.  His passing is both a shock and a great sadness for me.


As a teacher at the old Essex Catholic High School, at 300 Broadway, Newark, I coordinated the annual three-day spring trip to Washington, D.C.. It was on the 1962 trip, that nearly one hundred students, chaperones and I first met Peter W. Rodino, Jr., the Congressman from the district in which the school was located. It would be the first of many meetings over the years.


By 1965, some 250 students were making the annual pilgrimage to the Capital. Sheer numbers dictated a movement problem, and staggered arrangements had to be made for sightseeing and meals at the Hot Shoppes. Even J. Edgar Hoover could not accommodate such a large group and suggested alternate times for the FBI Tour. Traveling as a group only once, the six bus caravan, replete with a police escort provided by Congressman Rodino, made its way from the Shoreham Hotel to Arlington Cemetery, where a wreath

was placed on the grave of  President Kennedy.


By the second half of the decade, we were hosting a reception at my suite in the Shoreham for the three-member Congressional delegation that represented the constituency of the Essex Catholic students. On one occasion, Congressman Rodino made a ten minute visit to a boy who was confined to his room because of sickness. What better way to cheer a kid up.


By that time, Essex Catholic was hosting at an annual banquet on the last night of our trip at the posh Mayflower Hotel. During one of these galas, the Congressman provided us with the keynote speaker, an upper CIA operative. Because of protest possibilities, he advised me not to announce his appearance until the evening of the event. With Sean Connery, playing his familiar role of “James Bond,” he was still a favorite with teen-age Boys, and naturally, they loved our keynote speaker.


Soon Congressman Rodino became a frequent visitor to Essex Catholic, participating in political forums and other events that I sponsored. After one such forum in 1972, I walked the Congressman to his car and being a conservative Republican at the time, asked, “ ‘Uncle Pete’, how could you support a candidate like George McGovern?” In short order, I had to eat my words.


I shall never forget the efforts made by “Uncle Pete” to help Essex Catholic in our quest to seat a New Jersey representative on the America Revolution Bicentennial Commission. Obtaining some 50,000 signatures from high school students throughout the state, we presented them to a presidential aide in White House Ceremonies. Thanks to “Uncle Pete,” our efforts were backed by the Governor and the entire New Jersey Congressional delegation. When the next vacancy occurred, President Nixon appointed Dr. Richard P.

McCormick of Rutgers to the vacated seat.


Many of us remember Mr. Rodino presiding with impartial dignity over the Nixon impeachment hearings, held in the House Judiciary Committee chamber during the spring and summer of 1974. During late June, a couple of Christian Brothers and I, took a about eight boys to visit Washington in one of the Essex Catholic vans. I advised them that the possibility of meeting Congressman Rodino was nil due to the impeachment hearings. However, I did arrange a meeting with Congressman Joe Minish who represented some of our boys who lived in the Oranges. Did I dare pick up the phone in Joe Minish’s office and call “Uncle Pete” with the faint hope that he just might receive eight casually-dressed teenagers and their chaperones? I dared, and spoke to one of his staffers. Apparently, the Committee had taken a break, and after conferring with the Congressman she said, “come on over.” We entered his office and there received a twenty-minute briefing. While the Congressman was talking to the standing students, one of them started perusing the classified documents on the oval table. As soon as I notice the impropriety, I gave the kid a discreet nudge.


Chairman Rodino, gave us our own private “Watergate Lesson,” advising us that his Committee had gathered enough evidence to warrant impeachment, citing “obstruction of justice” and “abuse of power.” As we left Congressman Rodino’s office, a reporter waiting outside asked, “What did he say?” Fortunately, the young man had the good sense not to respond as we made a hasty retreat from the Rayburn Building. To this day, I wonder if those students  realized that their visit with Congressman was living history at its finest and far transcended their U.S. History textbook. I would like to think so. Later, in 1977, as a teacher at Mater Dei High School in Middletown, I took a busload of co-eds to Washington. While touring the Rayburn Building, I stopped off at his office where I was told there was no way “Uncle Pete” could meet with my high school group.


He was in Committee and would then be breaking for lunch, followed by a television interview in the lobby. What a letdown! I met of my students, Hugh Sharkey, now an Oceanport Councilman, and we went into the Judiciary Committee chamber just as it was breaking for lunch. We gave the Judiciary Committee Chair a start as we approached the two-tiered committee dais. I spoke to him requesting that he just say a “hello” to my students who were waiting in the lobby, as Watergate was still fresh in their young minds. All I wanted was a “hello” and nothing more. His response was that he cleared the chamber and invited the thirty or so kids to come in. Another “you are there” history lesson unfolded as the Congressman spent over a half an hour with us, more time than our local Congressman, Jim Howard, had given us earlier in the day.


In addition to discussing Watergate, he advised the students that the 26th Amendment was born in the very room that they were in. As the Amendment lowered the voting age to eighteen,  his presentation piqued the interest the students who had reached adulthood and who now formed part of the electorate. We left the Chamber all the more enlightened, and with the glare of  the television floodlights in the lobby,  I asked, “And what about your lunch, ‘Uncle Pete’?”


He will be missed.



The writer, Thomas C. Murray a former teacher at both Essex Catholic and Mater Dei High Schools in New Jersey, is now retired. T.C.  Murray is also on the Board of  Directors of THE CITIZEN for Social Responsibility.


Posted  June 01, 2005

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