Longtime Irvington councilor, Essex freeholder recalled as dedicated, influential public servant

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 23, 2014

IRVINGTON — Former Essex County Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley was remembered today as a dedicated man whose influence stretched across nearly every corner of public life in his home of Irvington.

The 68-year-old was a fixture in the political scene in Irvington and across Essex County for decades, beginning with his election as a township councilor in 1988 and culminating in four terms on the county executive board beginning in 2002.

Family members said he died as he attempted to recover from a recent surgery.

“He was a true father, he was a true provider. He always put the community first bec that was his position,” said Jamilah Beasley, one of his five children. “As a father, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Born in Newark, Beasley attended the city’s public schools, starring in basketball and leading his junior high to a state championship, family members said. Not long after, he met his wife Annette, who he married when he was just 18.

The two celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

Beasley spent 26 years as an Irvington councilor, including a two-year stint as president until he stepped down earlier this year. He also took over as chairman of the township's Democratic committee in 1994, exerting his influence over the dozens of elections that followed.

Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, who took office in July, said his election had been the culmination of a decade of guidance from Beasley. The longtime party boss backed Vauss in the race, choosing him over longtime incumbent Wayne Smith.

“He was just everything to me — a mentor, a father, a brother, a friend,” Vauss said. “Everything I learned about being involved in the community and being a people person, I learned from him.”

He also succeeded in the private sector, helping to run a family shoe care business based at Newark Liberty International Airport. He had spent time working for the Newark Housing and Redevelopment Authority until his retirement in 2002.

Both at home and on the political scene, Beasley was known as a subdued but powerful gentleman who needed few words to send a message.

“He would say things, and just his look — very low key, very mild-mannered, but he always got his point across,” Jamilah Beasley said.

The longtime lawmaker was inducted into the state Municipal Legislators Hall of Fame in 2009 in recognition of his 20 years in elected office.

Beasley also served in a number of civic organizations, including the Irvington chapter of the NAACP and as chair of the township’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee.

Vauss said Beasley’s passion for the community never wavered, even as his health began to fail.

“He was always focused on the next project, which was the Martin Luther King program that we have coming up in January,” he said. “He was involved in everything. The list goes on and on.”

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. also mourned the longtime freeholder in a statement, calling him a "consummate public servant who represented the people of Essex County with dignity, compassion and class."

"An Irvington Councilman and Essex County Freeholder, he was a gentleman who was a friend to those he served. Our deepest condolences go to his wife and family," DiVincenzo said.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz also spoke out after Beasley's death, saying she admired his experience and willingness to help those newer to politics and public life.

"He was an accomplished professional, a dedicated public servant and a true friend and supporter. He will be missed," she said.

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