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N.J. business, government leaders remember 'giant' in Al Koeppe, dead at 70

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The New Jersey flag.
The New Jersey flag. - ()

“New Jersey has lost a giant today.”

That was the sentiment expressed by Gov. Chris Christie in a statement Tuesday night upon hearing that former PSE&G President and longtime state Economic Development Authority Chairman Al Koeppe had died at the age of 70.

“Al Koeppe was a giant in the worlds of New Jersey business and public service,” said Christie. “His work at (Public Service Electric & Gas), his tireless commitment to the city of Newark and his dedication to growing jobs and bolstering the economy all over our state were unrivaled over the last four decades.”

Koeppe initially spent three years as chair of the EDA, beginning in 2003 under former Gov. Jim McGreevey, before Christie reappointed Koeppe to the post in 2010.

“For me personally, Al was a counselor, adviser and friend,” Christie said. “His leadership of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority over the last seven years helped spur incredible growth in both Newark and Camden. Thousands of people will be indebted to Al for the good-paying careers they will be able to have in those cities due to his vision.”

In an email to friends Tuesday afternoon, EDA CEO Melissa Orsen noted that Koeppe had died that morning from complications pertaining to a heart attack suffered at his home this past Sunday. Koeppe’s family, Orsen said, was by his side Tuesday.

“His mark on the EDA is immeasurable,” Orsen said in her email. “He drove us to achieve the highest standards of public service and expressed his pride of the EDA and our staff at every opportunity. New Jersey has truly lost a great man, and the EDA a most treasured board chair.”

A viewing for Koeppe will be held Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Colonial Funeral Home in Brick. On Saturday, a funeral Mass will take place at 10 a.m. at the Church of St. Denis in Manasquan.

The family is requesting that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the RWJ Barnabas Health Foundation and to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.

In addition to his roughly eight years at PSE&G and two spells at the EDA, Koeppe enjoyed a long career that also saw him serve in the capacity of CEO and president at Bell New Jersey, Verizon and the Newark Alliance.

Koeppe, a Jersey City native and later Manasquan resident, also chaired the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce from 1999 to 2001.

Current chamber CEO and President Tom Bracken called Koeppe’s death “a deep loss to the state, the chamber and me personally.”

“Simply said, Al was one of the finest people I had ever met in my career,” Bracken said. “He always put the interest of others ahead of himself and worked diligently to make our state a better place. The importance of his contributions to the New Jersey community are immeasurable, and the example he set as a leader is the standard we should all aspire to achieve. This is a sad day, but I know I am speaking for many people in saying that I am grateful for having had Al in my life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) added that Koeppe’s death was “a real loss to all of us who knew him and for all the people whose lives he touched.

"New Jersey has lost one of its most distinguished leaders in the passing of Al Koeppe,” Sweeney said. “He was a highly respected and accomplished leader in both the business community and in public service. He embodied the virtues of success and was completely selfless in serving a wide range of organizations and causes that advanced the needs of people throughout New Jersey.”

Koeppe also served as chairman of multiple commissions and organizations, including the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation. He sat on the boards of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and New Jersey Resources Corp., as well as being a trustee of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and St. Benedict’s Prep.

Horizon Chairman, CEO and President Robert Marino said Tuesday that Koeppe “was a truly legendary figure whose impact was felt in literally every corner of the state.

“Al is someone whose wisdom, advice and counsel I often relied upon and will sorely miss,” Marino said. “He was a true leader and gentleman in every sense of the word, and there is a reason why every governor for the last four decades relied on Al to help make New Jersey a better place to live. His love for New Jersey was surpassed only by his love for Newark. Al was often referred to as ‘Mr. Newark’ because of his devotion to the city. He will be greatly missed. On behalf of Horizon, our 5,000 employees and our entire board of directors, I send my thoughts and prayers to the Koeppe family.” 

Koeppe also won several awards, including the Council for Action for Minority Professionals’ Trailblazer Award, the Consortium of Information Technological Executives’ Diversity Award, the Anti-Defamation League’s Americanism Award, and both the NAACP’s and AFL-CIO’s Corporate Leader awards.

“There is a hole in the state today,” said PSE&G Chairman Ralph Izzo and President Ralph LaRossa in a joint statement issued to several news outlets. “The working men and women, particularly in the urban areas, have lost a true advocate."

Koeppe was a regular member of the NJBIZ Power 100 list of the most powerful people in state business. In the most recent edition, published in January 2016, he was ranked No. 88.

Koeppe received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers-Newark and his law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He was named to the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2003.

Earlier this year, New Jersey Future honored Koeppe, including with this video tribute the organization shared with NJBIZ:

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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