OCEAN COUNTY – News that Ocean County Commissioner Gerry Little’s last meeting would be December 1st caught even his colleagues by surprise.
“We only learned Gerry wouldn’t be coming back the day of the meeting,” shared Gary Quinn, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners. “We planned to do something special for him at our final meeting of the year.”
Little announced his decision to forego seeking reelection earlier this year. His replacement, Bobbi Jo Crea, takes office in January. Both are Republicans from southern Ocean County.
As the Ocean County Health Department liaison, Little provided regular COVID-19 updates since the disease became both a local and national issue. Immediately after he delivered his early December report, Little made his announcement.
“This will be the last meeting I will be attending as your commissioner,” Little said. “It has been my pleasure to work with all you folks in the audience. I appreciate your support and friendship.”
“We will begin traveling next week,” continued Little. “We only have one more meeting this month and will be traveling to visit with our son and his wife.”
Word has it that Little’s decision to leave one meeting short of the last reflected his dislike for fanfare. The outgoing commissioner’s reputation appears premised on his strong faith, sense of family, and humility. His years of public service speak of a man dedicated to the greater good – who did not expect or enjoy recognition.
Little’s appointment to the then-Freeholder Board came in December 2003 when county officials selected him to replace the late Freeholder James J. Mancini. Little subsequently received voter approval and ultimately served six terms in office.
A full-time resident of Surf City, Little began his political career in the small Long Beach Island community. He served as a municipal councilman for eight years when the late State Senator Leonard T. Connors Jr. held the dual role as Surf City mayor.
From 1994 until he joined the Freeholder Board, Little worked with Connors in another capacity. He headed to Trenton to serve as chief of staff to the 9th Legislative District, then represented by State Senator Leonard T. Connors Jr., Assemblyman Christopher J. Connors, and former Assemblyman Jeffrey Moran.
The voice of Ocean County’s COVID-19 response team, Little showed up at public meetings wearing a mask – even after mandates were lifted. He assumed a compassionate and non-partisan approach in his reports; starting the year with hope and prayers that newly elected President Joe Biden could hasten vaccine distribution.
“I’ve known Gerry for not just the last six years we sat together as freeholders and now commissioners,” shared Commissioner Virginia “Ginny” Haines. “I knew him many years before that when we were both in Trenton. It’s been my honor and pleasure to serve with him and see his dedication to the people of Ocean County.”
Commissioner Joseph “Joe” Vicari offered accolades on Little’s work, saying his service particularly shone when the county experienced “difficult” times.
“It hasn’t just been COVID-19, but as his work a steady liaison to the health department,” Vicari said. “His expertise and experience during the superstorm (Sandy) were something that couldn’t be replaced.”
As the entire five-person commissioner board thanked Little, some personal details came to light. For example, the outgoing commissioner recently adopted a six-pound puppy who’s already reached a massive 75 pounds. And, as Little and his wife, Mary Lee, head out to visit their son, they’re making it a road trip in a recreational vehicle.
“You’ve done an outstanding job the whole time you’ve been here,” Commissioner Jack Kelly told Little, who then went on to joke with his outgoing colleague. “I know you’ve done an upgrade to your camper, but we’re still running the same pool to see how far you get before you break down.”
Everyone laughed softly as they recalled another time Little embarked on a road trip and experienced mechanical difficulties while still in Ocean County.
Quinn said he would always think of Little as a commissioner even as he moved on to the next chapter in his life. He easily understood the outgoing commissioner’s decision to forego the last meeting to make it in time to spend the holidays with his son.
“I know how important your family is,” Quinn said to Little. “You’ve always been there as a former freeholder, commissioner, and friend. You’ve done a tremendous amount of work not only for the people of Ocean County but also for the state during your tenure with Lenny Connors back in the day.”
Little’s life of service began as a member of the United States Marines Corps. In addition to acting as the liaison to the Ocean County Health Department, the retired commissioner advocated for veterans’ programs as liaison to the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau.