SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Township officials announced Saturday morning that Mayor Frank Gambatese, 81, died after a brief illness.

Gambatese was the longest serving mayor in the history of the township, taking office in 2002. He was also only the second directly elected mayor since the township changed its form of government in 1997.

Township Manager Bernard Hvozdovic announced his passing in a Nixle alert Saturday morning.

Sign Up for E-News

He previously served as mayor of West Paterson before moving to the township, and was elected into the New Jersey League of Municipalities Hall of Fame.

“Mayor Gambatese will be remembered as a tireless advocate for the Township. In the 20 years since he was elected to office, he worked diligently to improve the quality of life for the residents of South Brunswick Township,” Hvozdovic said in the announcement. “As the chief ambassador for the Township he attracted hundreds of new businesses into the Township including Target, Best Buy and Coca-Cola, to name a few.   He was a strong advocate for preservation and open space.”

According to Hvozdovic, one of his greatest achievements involved a five-year negotiation process where the State of New Jersey invested nearly $2.8 million in a 60-acre property that was once the historic Princeton Nursery site, which still features unique plants and historic buildings.

The purchase was part of a larger 187-acre preservation partnership between the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres Program, Princeton University, and South Brunswick Township.

He also worked to address infrastructure needs of the community by securing $11 million dollars in federal grants to study the widening of Route 1.

Gambatese was predeceased by his wife Ellen in 2012.

He is survived by his sons, Frank Jr. of West Windsor, N.J., and John Paul of South Brunswick; his daughters, MaryAnne Bross of Livingston, N.J., Rosemary Peng of Piscataway, N.J., and Christine Alencewicz of Baldwinsville, N.Y.; and 11 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.