By John Burton
RED BANK – Police Chief Stephen G. McCarthy had a life that made a difference in the lives of so many others.
On Monday a borough worker draped purple and black memorial bunting over the entrance of police headquarters and members of the department placed black ribbons across their uniform badges. As word spread that McCarthy had died earlier that morning, there was a palpable pall that seemed to spread over the department and community.
Mayor Pasquale Menna saw it, felt it.
“There was a real sense of loss” everywhere and with everyone he spoke, the mayor said, especially with members of the department who “were lost.”
Menna, who seemed shaken by the chief’s death, went to headquarters later in the day, after conceding he wasn’t going to get any work done at his law office. He sat with those coming on duty for the night shift. “They seemed lost. I mean, they’re grown men; they know they have a job to do. But they didn’t know what to say, to do,” he said.
Menna knew how they felt. “I can’t believe it. I never anticipated it would come this fast.”
McCarthy, 50, had been chief since 2010. He had been battling a reoccurrence of thyroid cancer and was being treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Menna said.
McCarthy had been with the department for 27 years, coming up through the ranks, first as a patrolman. He headed the criminal investigation and detective bureaus before being named chief of the 40-member department.
“Not only was he the best of any of the chiefs I had the privilege to work with – and we’ve had good ones in the 25 years I’ve been on the council and as mayor – but he was also, in my opinion, the poster of what chiefs should be throughout the whole state,” Menna said.
Borough Council President and Police Commissioner Arthur V. Murphy III stressed, “He was a gentleman before he became chief.
“He had a real decency,” Murphy said. “You don’t replace a guy like that.”
Murphy and Menna met with McCarthy at the mayor’s home, some months back when it appeared the chief’s cancer had returned. McCarthy told the officials about his condition – and prognosis.
“We spent much of the time crying like children,” Menna said.
“We all knew what was coming,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t keep it in.”
It was McCarthy who reached out and grabbed Murphy’s shoulder, asking, “Are you all right?”
“He knew he was going down that path and “he asked me, if I was all right,” Murphy remembered.
“We lost a really good individual, not only as a father and husband, but as a really great police officer,” said Mark Fitzgerald, who was chief and retired prior to McCarthy taking over and now is head of security for Riverview Medical Center. “He was a really decent individual.”
Fitzgerald and McCarthy worked together in the police department for many years. “It was easy to tell from my position that, when he joined the police department, he had the capabilities of rising to the top and being a leader,” Fitzgerald said. “He was that type of person.
“He was a natural leader – that was apparent from the beginning,” he said.
Fitzgerald recalled when he told McCarthy’s father that one day his son would become chief. The senior McCarthy remembered that and reminded Fitzgerald of it when McCarthy was sworn in.
“He was like a brother to many of us,” Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni aid.
Gramiccioni first met McCarthy when the prosecutor was with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and he and McCarthy were working on a case that had overlapping federal and local jurisdictions. “He was great at his job,” he said.
The prosecutor was always struck by McCarthy’s diligence, but more profoundly, Gramiccioni said, “He had a real good heart.
“We may be all good at our jobs but we all can’t be equally good-hearted people,” Gramiccioni said. “He was that double-whammy.”
Police Captain Darren McConnell, a department veteran and friend called McCarthy “the picture of what you’d want a police officer, police chief and a person in general to be in the way he conducted himself every day.”
McCarthy’s manner of dealing with people and situations was “in such a calm and compassionate way … that spread through the department,” McConnell said. “People looked up to him, the way he conducted himself.”
Board of Education President Ben Forest agreed. Forest knew McCarthy since they both attended Monmouth Regional High School, though a year apart. When he became chief, McCarthy reached out to Forest and his wife Amy Goldsmith, president of the West Side Community Group, asking to meet with some west side residents and hear their concerns. He came to Forest’s home. “He sat and listened and I never had a police chief do that before,” Forest said. “Amy and I were very moved by that.”
“He was bright, articulate; he had a quiet but strong presence,” Menna said. “One of the good ones is gone.”
Stephen G. McCarthy, 50, of West Long Branch, and the chief of police for Red Bank, died Monday, Sept. 23.
His accomplishments in law enforcement started in Rutgers University graduating with a degree in criminal justice. Later, he attended Kean University, obtaining a master’s in public administration. He was a graduate of the 2004 FBI National Academy (235th class), 2004 West Point Command and Leadership Program and The National Training Center of Polygraph Science. In 2010 he became the chief of police of Red Bank.
Stephen was a member of numerous associations, including the Monmouth County and New Jersey State Associations of Chiefs of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He was an active member of the PBA Local 39.
Above all, he was a devoted family man to his wife, children and parents. Stephen never missed one of his children’s games, one of his greatest joys.
He is survived by his beloved wife Maryellen; his loving children, Matthew and Jenna; a brother, Robert; his parents Elizabeth and Stephen; his mother-in-law, Teresa Ferrigno; his in-laws, Chrissy and Jim Mellaci, Rob and Lisa Ferrigno; and numerous other relatives.
Visitation was held at the John E. Day Funeral Home, Red Bank, on Thursday, Sept. 26. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at St. Michaels R.C. Church, West End. Interment will follow at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Middletown.
Donations in Stephen’s memory may be made to the Red Bank PBA–McCarthy Children’s College Fund at PO Box 39, Red Bank, NJ 07701 or online at: www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/redbankpbalocal39/redbank pbalocal39s-mccarthyschildrenfund.
Please visit Stephen’s memorial website at www.johne dayfuneralhome.com.