HACKENSACK, NJ -- New Jersey business leaders and elected officials are praising the life and legacy of Joseph Simunovich, a towering figure in business, environmental sustainability and health care, after his unfortunate passing on Tuesday at the age of 78. Among his many accomplishments, Simunovich is being remembered as a driving force behind the creation of Hackensack Meridian Health, the state’s largest integrated hospital network.

“Without Joe’s personal leadership, determination and tireless efforts, this merger of two great hospital systems would never have happened,” said Ulises Diaz, Vice President of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and one of several leading executives Simunovich mentored over the years.

As a philanthropist, Simunovich most recently served as co-chairman of the Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) Board of Trustees after first joining the Hackensack University Medical Center Board in 1991. He was also chairman of the new HMH School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.

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Earlier this year, HMH Chief Executive Officer Robert Garrett presented Simunovich with the organization’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and said he was “thrilled to honor a dear friend, a great mentor and a man who has contributed so much… to the betterment of our health network, patients and the community.’’

“Joe was always willing to generously share his wisdom and advice on a broad spectrum of topics. He left an incredible legacy and will be sorely missed by those of us who were honored and privileged to have known him,” said Mark Sparta, President and Chief Hospital Executive of Hackensack University Medical Center.

As a business leader, Simunovich served as the President and Chief of Staff of Suez North America and in numerous other top executive positions with Suez, United Water, Verizon and New Jersey Bell.

“A leader in health care, business, transportation, clean water and environmental protection and many other issues, Joe positively impacted the lives of millions of New Jerseyans,” said Richard Henning, Suez NA Senior Vice President and longtime close friend. “His vast contributions to our state will continue to be relevant for many years to come.”

Simunovich played a leadership role in the administrations of nine New Jersey governors, serving as the Chairman of both the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Among his accomplishments, he oversaw the consolidation of several state highway agencies and the implementation of the state’s EZ Pass system. Simunovich was also an elected official who served as a former Director of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Simunovich, “dedicated his life to public service” and called his contributions to New Jersey, “immeasurable.”

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was a longtime friend and admirer of Simunovich, who served as Finance Chairman for the many of the Senator’s campaigns.

“Joe Simunovich was a dear friend, a tremendous human being and an incredible public servant,” Menendez said.

A Colgate University graduate, Simunovich was a longtime Hackensack resident and dedicated family man. He is survived by his beloved wife Pam, their daughter and son in law and four grandsons.

A wake will be held on Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Frank Patti & Kenneth Mikatarian Funeral Home, 237 Main Street, Fort Lee. Funeral services for Simunovich are set for 10 a.m. Monday at Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack, 34 Maple Avenue.