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He was a man with so much positivity, an infectious smile and a friendly personality and always had time, even just a couple or a few minutes to speak with someone.

Former Toms River Mayor and Ocean County Prosecutor Tom Kelaher passed away on Sunday at the age of 88, Toms River Township Spokeswoman Stacy Proebstle confirmed to Townsquare Media News on Sunday evening.

His legacy and memory of all he did, who he served and all whom he impacted will remain apart of the Toms River and Ocean County community for years and decades to come.

To step aside for a moment, covering Mayor Kelaher was my first assignment as a Reporter with Townsquare Media News/92.7 WOBM in late 2015 as the town was bracing for the impacts of Hurricane Joaquin.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)
Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)

He couldn't have been more kind and giving me and the media any more of his time that day and other days as well.

That wasn't the first or last storm Mayor Kelaher helped guide the town's recovery efforts for either, and certainly none bigger than Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

He became Mayor in 2007 after winning an election over Mayor Paul Brush and stayed on for three terms, retiring in 2020, handing the baton to Maurice "Mo" Hill who had been a councilman under Mayor Kelaher.

Mayor Hill issued a statement on Monday morning.
"Toms River has lost a pillar of our community with the passing of Mayor Thomas Kelaher. He served 3 terms as Mayor of Toms River from 2008-2020. He also served his country for over 28 years in the United States Marine Corps retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. He maintained an active law practice in Toms River for over 50 years. He served as Ocean County Prosecutor and was on the Board of Trustees of Community Medical Center and the Saint Barnabas Healthcare System which is now RWJBarnabas Healthcare System. He supported numerous charities in our community and received civic awards in recognition of his service. Mayor Kelaher was an active parishioner at Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic Church where he served as a lector, Eucharistic Minister and Trustee. Flags will be flown at half staff at all municipal buildings in honor of Mayor Kelaher. He has left a lasting legacy for our community and his family. On behalf of all the residents of Toms River we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Kelaher Family."
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There are many in the Toms River and Ocean County community and Jersey Shore community paying their respects and offering condolences to Mayor Kelaher, starting with his Pastor at St. Joseph's Church.

"I've had the great privilege of knowing Tom Kelaher and his wife Carol for 31-years. My greatest appreciation for Tom was in the gracious way he lived his faith and served the community with such integrity. I will truly miss him," Fr. Scott Shaffer tells Townsquare Media News.

"Just a great man, he will be missed. A pleasure to work for. He was truly liked by all who met him," Toms River OEM Coordinator Paul Daley told Townsquare Media News.

Several people issued statements and reflections on social media as well.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said he and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office "extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of former Ocean County Prosecutor and Toms River Township Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher. Former Prosecutor Kelaher passed away today. He spent his lifetime in service to his country and the residents of Ocean County. A 28 year veteran of the United States Marines, he served as an Assistant Prosecutor at OCPO from 1968-1974 before returning as Prosecutor from 2002 until 2007. He then served three consecutive terms as the Mayor of Toms River Township. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues. He will be missed."

"I have long admired former Prosecutor Tom Kelaher. I went to High School with his son, Michael, and have fond memories of Mr. Kelaher as a great father and family man. As I became older, that fondness grew as I learned more about Mr. Kelaher and his service to our country and our local community.

As a young lawyer in Ocean County, I was proud to be a colleague of Mr. Kelaher. It was humbling to be practicing law in the same circles as this legendary attorney. Although he had an awe-inspiring presence, he was always gracious and affable, never too busy to share a story or impart some wisdom on his younger colleagues.

As a former Ocean County Prosecutor, Tom Kelaher left an indelible legacy at this office. There are countless men and women, assistant prosecutors and detectives alike, who started their careers here in the office because Tom Kelaher believed in them and their abilities. He could walk through the office and say hello to everyone by name, no small feat in an office of 180 people. As a Prosecutor, Mr. Kelaher was innovative and effective, both in his ability to lead the office and to inspire those who served under him. Ocean County is a better and safer place because of Tom Kelaher.

When I was appointed Prosecutor, then-Toms River Mayor Kelaher was among the first to call me to offer his advice and support. He was kind and indulgent with his time and wisdom – a true gentleman. Tom Kelaher leaves behind a legacy that is unparalleled in our community: a tireless, selfless man who dedicated his life to his family and public service – a balancing act that is not easily accomplished. We are all better off because of Tom Kelaher’s presence in our community.

To say that Tom Kelaher will be missed is an understatement.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy and his office issued a statement on Facebook as well.

"On behalf of Sheriff Michael Mastronardy and the entire staff at the Ocean County Sheriff's Office we send our thoughts and prayers to the family of former Prosecutor Thomas Kelaher who passed away. Mr. Kelaher served his country proudly as a United States Marine and dedicated his life to giving back. God speed!"

Toms River First Aid Squad ---

"The Officers and Membership of the Toms River First Aid Squad would like express their sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the former Mayor of Toms River Thomas Kelaher, who has recently passed. He will always be remembered as a friend of the Squad and was always a pleasure to be around. May he Rest In Eternal Peace."

Toms River FMBA Local 483 ---

"The Executive Officers and members of the Toms River FMBA Local 483 send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Toms River Mayor and Ocean County Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher. We thank him for a lifetime of service to our country as a veteran of the United States Marines and great supporter of our community, specifically to Emergency Services, and our Union. He will truly be missed. God speed Sir."

Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra ---

"Very sad to hear of former Toms River Mayor Kelaher’s passing today. He was just retiring from his public service as I was starting mine up, but was always incredibly kind at the various meetings we would see each other. Point Beach is sending our best to Toms River in this difficult time."

Berkeley Township Councilman John Bacchione ---

"This evening, we join Toms River and Ocean County in mourning the loss of former Toms River Mayor and former Ocean County Prosecutor Tom Kelaher. We all thank him for his service as a United States Marine, as well as his commitment to serving the local community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Kelaher family."

Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato Jr. ---

"So very sorry to learn of Mayor Tom Kelaher's passing. Mayor Kelaher served our Country as a Marine, our County as its Prosecutor and the citizens of Toms River as its Mayor. A lifetime of dedicated public service. Mayor Kelaher was the consummate professional who served his constituents with dignity and respect. I got to know "Mayor Tom" as I called him, during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Mayor Tom will be sorely missed by many. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family during this difficult time."

Neptune City Councilman Brian Thomas --

"Tonight, we lost one of the best public servants anyone could have asked for as well as a good, good man. I don’t know how many times I would make sure to stop by to visit Tom Kelaher, especially anytime I was even close to Toms River.

We’d sit and talk for hours about his service in the Marines, how much he loved being Mayor, and the amount of history he experienced like coming face-to-face with Frank Hague when he was a young photographer. You truly will be missed my friend. “May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.”

Pleasant Plains Volunteer First Aid Squad ---

"On behalf of all of us at PPFAS, our heartfelt condolences to the family of former Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher. Rest In Peace."

Just Believe Inc. ---

"Our deepest sympathy for a great man that has led the Toms River charge for a long time and helped Paul with the homeless and disenfranchised in Toms River. He always welcome him in his office every time he was there and always had told Paul straight what he thought was the right thing to do and what he was able to do... Rest in peace my friend you will be missed."

Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden ----

"#SheriffGolden and the #MCSONJ are deeply saddened over the passing of former Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher, who was also the Ocean County Prosecutor prior to becoming mayor. Kelaher spent many years humbly serving the public, was extremely respected and a US Marine Corp veteran. Our thoughts go out to the Kelaher family. RIP and thank you for your service."

Dan Alexander contributed to this report.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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