Mulcahy, the ultimate public servant to N.J., passes at 85

‘It was all about dedication to the state, not a person or party’

He couldn’t control the weather on that one special day.

That’s what Karen Kessler lovingly remembers about her longtime friend Bob Mulcahy, a man she said always made public service to the state of New Jersey his top priority.

But on this day, Oct. 5, 1995, when Pope John Paul II said Mass at Giants Stadium — the one and only time a pope had set foot in New Jersey — it rained.

Mulcahy, in charge of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority at the time, felt he was being a bad host.

“I’ll never forget it,” Kessler said with a laugh. “Bob was a very devout Catholic. His Catholicism was very central to who he was. And he was obviously so excited that the pope was coming here.

“So, here he was. The place was packed, and Bob was one of the few people who was going to get a chance to meet the pope beforehand. How great is that? But he was upset that it was raining. He said he felt he let everyone down.”

Kessler, who served on both the sports authority commission and the board of Atlantic Health System with Mulcahy, said she admired Mulcahy for always thinking of others — especially the state — over almost anything else.

“Other than his family, nothing was more important than the state of New Jersey,” she said.

Mulcahy, 85, died Tuesday morning.

He lived a life of service that few from the Garden State can match.

In addition to leading the sports authority for nearly two decades, Mulcahy served for nearly a decade as the athletic director at Rutgers University — where he was responsible for hiring a little-known 34-year-old named Greg Schiano as football coach and making the upgrades to facilities that were necessary for an entry into the Big Ten.

He also served on the board of Atlantic Health for 13 years and was the chair of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority for a decade.

Mulcahy, who graduated from Villanova University in 1958, served in the Navy and then began a career in politics, becoming a councilman in Mendham at 23 and later serving as its mayor. He served as the state’s first corrections commissioner and was the chief of staff to Gov. Brendan Byrne.

Through it all, Kessler said the state was the only thing that mattered.

“He was a dedicated public servant,” she said. “He was literally nonpartisan. That just didn’t matter to him. At all. It was all about dedication to the state, not a person or party. That’s sort of lost these days.”

For all of his accomplishments up and down the state, Mulcahy will be known to many for his time at Rutgers.

And, while he is credited with hiring Schiano — and helping to turn around the winless program he inherited — it did not end well at the school. Many felt he spent too many public funds to build the program, a decision that led to his departure.

Rutgers’ admittance the Big Ten — a game-changing moment for the university — altered that perception. And Mulcahy, who was elected to the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, said the event help give him closure.

Pat Hobbs, the current athletic director at Rutgers, saluted him Tuesday.

“Bob was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life,” he said in a statement. “He was one of those rare individuals who balanced being a great husband, father and grandfather with being a man of public service and a friend to many. I know how much Rutgers meant to Bob and his family, and how much his legacy means to the history of our athletic department.

“His work and leadership were integral to Rutgers Athletics being in a position to join the Big Ten. We build on the foundation he laid for us. I extend my deepest condolences to Bob’s family and friends. He left an indelible mark on countless coaches and student-athletes and many more. Bob will truly be missed by all.”

Mulcahy’s passing drew comments from many, including:

  • The Mulcahy family: “Today, our family lost our patriarch, mentor and friend. It is with profound sadness we announce the passing of Robert E. Mulcahy III. He was devoted to public service, both professionally and personally, and his legacy will live on through the countless people whose lives he touched with his counsel, mentoring and friendship. While he achieved many incredible milestones and accomplishments during his tenure as the director of athletics of Rutgers University, or as the CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, or as chief of staff to Gov. Brendan Byrne, his greatest accomplishment was as a husband, father and grandfather.”
  • Schiano: “In Bob’s passing, Rutgers and New Jersey lost one of its truly faithful servants. Personally, I lost a mentor, a role model and a true friend. The partnership we had at Rutgers was uncommon and something we both valued greatly. However, what Bob valued most dearly was his family. You are his legacy.”
  • C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers’ women’s basketball coach: “Bob Mulcahy was a visionary, and, while we will miss him dearly, his legacy is very much alive at Rutgers. He saw the importance of having a successful athletic department as the front porch of our university, and he put his full love and support into that belief. He believed in us as people, as professionals, and as coaches to continue building this athletic department to the standards he knew we could uphold. … We were so proud to live out his vision on the women’s basketball team, and he made sure we had what we needed to stand on our own. He should always be remembered as the architect of the Rutgers Athletic Department as we know it. Every generation of Scarlet Knights will continue to benefit from his vision.”
  • CRDA Chairman Mo Butler: “We’ve lost a true New Jersey public servant — in every sense of the word. Bob was instrumental to me in my transition to the chairman role at CRDA, and I will forever be indebted to him for his mentorship.”

Mulcahy, who was elected into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2020, was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Terry, of 62 years. The college sweethearts are survived by seven children, Cathleen, Bob, Matthew, Kevin, Muffy, Megan and Deidre, and 15 grandchildren, Nicholas, Matthew, Alaine, Connor, Tyler, Abigail, Emily, Owen, Katie, Bobby, Drew, Mia, Brady, Annabelle and Emma Grace.