Hundreds of mourners including various Jersey City and Hudson County public officials came out on Monday to pay their final respects to the late Tom Fricchione, who passed away on Dec. 22 at his Jersey City home from natural causes at the age of 64.
Fricchione was well known as a two-term city councilman, first in Ward A from 1981-1985 and then in Ward B in 1985-1989 after his district was redrawn. He also had appeared at Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea’s annual Christmas Toy Drive on Dec. 18, where he took pictures of hundreds of kids and helped give out toys, one of the many civic activities that Fricchione helped organize since he got involved in politics in the early 1970s. It was one of the last social events he was seen at before his passing.
“I think he would have wanted us to not be sad, but to have a smile on our faces.” – Cheryl Fricchione
Fricchione was remembered at a Monday morning funeral mass at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City where family and friends gathered to hear the eulogies given by his brother Dr. Donald Fricchione and his daughter Cheryl. In tears, Cheryl gave a top-10 list of lessons her father passed down to her and everyone who had ever crossed paths with him during his life.
“Lesson number one – laugh when you can, even laugh at yourself,” she said of her father, whom she recalled as someone who was always ready with a one-liner. “I think he would have wanted us to not be sad, but to have a smile on our faces.”
Many laughed when his daughter shared her memories of growing up with a socially active patriarch. But others were in inconsolable grief, such as former City Councilman Phil Kenny, who was crying openly during the funeral and outside the church at the loss of his longtime friend and political mentor.
After the service, his casket was taken to the Hollywood Cemetery in Union for burial. He is survived by his wife Lynda, his two daughters Cheryl and Justine (his daughter Courtney deceased), and his brothers Donald and Frank and sister Anne Marie.
Remembering the boy from Greenville
Fricchione grew up only blocks away from the Jersey City-Bayonne border in the city’s Greenville section as one of four children with their father running a laundry on Ocean Avenue, while the family lived above the business.
He attended Snyder High School in the 1960s. His classmate Frank Falcicchio remembered “Tommy” as always energetic and active in school activities. Falcicchio, who later worked on various political campaigns with Fricchione, attended Monday’s funeral.
“He was always someone who was there for others, always giving a helping hand to people,” Falcicchio said. “Tom was someone who could have been a millionaire since he once own three sub shops but the political bug bit him.”
Also appearing at the funeral mass were prominent politicos such as Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, and Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea. O’Dea had served on the Jersey City Municipal Council in the 1980s alongside Fricchione, who was his best friend and political guide going back to 1980 when O’Dea had just graduated from St. Peter’s College as a self-described “college kid who thought he knew everything.”
“He taught me a lot about street politics and how important it was to serve your constituents,” O’Dea said in a recent interview. “I also call him the master of the gimmick because he would give out kazoos and other items to people whenever he was campaigning.”
McCann couldn’t beat him
O’Dea cited Fricchione’s political savvy when remembering his 1985 reelection to the City Council. That election was famous for Fricchione winning in a new political ward – even though he had the same Armstrong Avenue address. The change was the result, O’Dea said, of the boundaries of Ward A being reconfigured through the machinations of then-Mayor Gerald McCann after Fricchione and McCann had a falling-out.
“It wasn’t gerrymandering, it was Gerry McCann-dering,” O’Dea said. “He thought Fricchione wouldn’t have a chance to get elected, but Tom proved him wrong.”
DeGise first met Fricchione when both worked in the Jersey City public school system in the 1970’s.
“He was a hard worker and a tough campaigner when he worked against me when I first ran for county executive in 2002,” DeGise said. “But he proved to be a loyal worker and a good employee.”
Healy called Fricchione’s passing “terrible” and considered him a personal friend for 10 years as well as a high-energy, hard-working man.
“He’s one of those people who is irreplaceable, and will be missed,” Healy said.