RAHWAY — City and county officials alike mourned the death of former Freeholder Chester Holmes, praising his community service and extolling his kind and gentle nature.
The former freeholder, 82, who died Dec. 28 at home of natural causes, served eight years as a city councilman prior to being elected to the Union County Freeholder Board. He retired at the end of 2009 to devote more time to his security business, Holmes Security and Investigations.
Holmes, who served four terms on the freeholder board, spent 50 years involved in community service, serving 29 years as a Rahway police officer and detective. He also served in the Army National Guard.
A resident of Rahway for 50 years, Holmes was highly regarded by his political peers, especially Union County Democrat Chair Charlotte DeFilippo, close personal friend of the former freeholder. Choking up, she said there were no words to express the loss of Holmes.
“Chester was a wonderful human being,” she said Monday, adding “everyone loved him, no one disliked him.”
Explaining her longtime friend and political compatriot was a “kind, warm, gentle and decent man,” DeFilippo pointed out that anyone who met the Rahway resident was richer for the experience.
“He was a dear friend and one you could always count on to be there,” the Democratic chair explained.
The former freeholder left many with fond memories, including former longtime mayor James Kennedy, who met Holmes during a robbery that took place at a local jewelry store when he was a teenager.
Kennedy, who was working at the local store, was forced to the back of the store by the robber until police arrived on the scene. Holmes was one of the detectives responding to the call, but it would not be the last time he came in contact with the detective. A year or so later when Kennedy took over a paper route, Holmes happened to be one of his customers.
Decades later their paths crossed once again when Kennedy became involved in politics. Although Kennedy ended up running off the line for a seat on the Rahway council and Holmes was a Democrat serving already on council, when Kennedy won his seat, the two worked well together and became friends. So well that Kennedy recommended Holmes run for a seat on the freeholder board.
Holmes made a name for himself while on the board, heading the Homeland Security Committee and heading efforts to improve the county infrastructure. He fought for a $10 million, five-year improvement plan to repair roads in the county, along with other efforts for open space and the Historic Preservation program to improve parks and recreation areas.
Freeholder Board Chairman for 2012 Al Mirabella, elected in 1997 along with Holmes, remembered his fellow board member as a dedicated elected official who made many important contributions to the county community during his 50-years of service. He also said the former board member had a unique style and comforting personality and was always in good spirits.
A memorial service at the Rahway Friendship Baptist Church is expected to take place Saturday, Jan. 5.