By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – Colleagues who worked with Jonathan Bitman on the borough council and in business are mourning and expressing their sadness over the news this week that Bitman had lost his struggle with cancer.
“His work, devotion to the town and his family and his incredible ability to maintain an optimistic and hardworking disposition through it all was amazing,” said Mayor Robert Neff Jr., about Bitman who died this week.
Bitman, who died Tuesday, Sept. 4, was 51, according to his business partner and friend Guy Hembling.
He had been battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer he acknowledged when he appeared at Red Bank Regional High School in May for the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser. At that time he told the audience he was in “the fight of a life,” and advised others fighting the disease to remain positive and keep fighting.
Bitman was born in Newark and grew up in Millburn. He lived in the borough with his wife, Dale, and two daughters, Jordan and Cori, for more than 15 years, according to the borough website.
He had been a member of the borough council since 2003 and was running as one of the Republican candidates for another three-year term in this year’s election.
“Even though you know he was battling this awful disease, he remained upbeat and involved and so hardworking,” Neff said.
The mayor said he was talking to Bitman just last week about some long-range borough projects, “He had everybody convinced he would beat this terrible disease.”
“First and foremost I thought Jon was a wonderful person, a wonderful public servant,” Councilman Daniel J. O’Hern Jr. said.
O’Hern said he got to know Bitman first through their participation in a local softball league and enjoyed his humor and passion. On the council, O’Hern, a Democrat, said, “I always enjoyed working with him. And, while Jon and I didn’t always agree on everything, I always respected his opinion and viewpoint.
“It’s a big loss for our community,” O’Hern said. “And more importantly, it’s a big loss for his family and friends.”
Bitman had been a partner with Hembling in Charles B. Hembling and Sons, a Shrewsbury construction contracting firm, for about 10 years. He had worked with the firm as its project manager and estimator for about eight years. “We were more than partners,” Hembling said. ”I just absolutely loved him.
“I really feel I was truly honored to have worked and have known him.”
His experience with construction and development benefited the community in his role as councilman and planning board member. He will be missed, Neff and O’Hern observed.
Bitman was on this year’s GOP ticket with incumbents David Gilmour and Donald Galante. Gilmour is running for a full term and Galante is seeking to fill the remainder of the term left vacant when Neff won last year’s mayor’s race.
It’s unclear what happens now, Neff said. “In the next couple of days we’ll get some advice,” from the Monmouth County clerk and borough attorney “to see what the process is going forward.”