NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - They took turns honoring Blanquita Valenti, using words such as compassionate and determined to describe the woman whose run as Middlesex County freeholder comes to an end Wednesday.
The officials, colleagues and peers who paid tribute to Valenti at the Dec. 19 Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting represented a cross-section of Valenti's long and distinguished career.
Some intersected with her journey somewhere along the 11 years she spent as a member of the New Brunswick City Council, others with her subsequent 15 years as a freeholder.
Still others are connected to Valenti through the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB), of which she was a founding member in 1971.
Inside her home on Crest Road in New Brunswick, however, she was just mom.
Valenti, along with her husband, Carl, taught their children through example. That much is evident considering the fact that Thomas followed her path into public service in the Hub City. He's the head of the city's Department of Public Works and Engineering.
Valenti, who worked as a high school Spanish teacher for close to 40 years by day and often spent her nights studying for her two Master's degrees, set an example in a very different way, too.
Thomas and his siblings watched as she took care of Carl's brother when he became ill. Then she cared for mother as she got older.
So, when Thomas' wife suffered a spinal injury, it was already in his nature to tend to her as best he could. He said divorce rates tend to soar among couples after the woman suffers such a devastating injury, but he found the capacity to love he didn't know he had - just as his mother would have.
"That," he said, "was the biggest influence she had on me."
Among those who took part in the special recognition ceremony were New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and Freeholder Director Ronald Rios.
Each of the freeholders took a turn publicly saying goodbye to Valenti, 85. Freeholder Charles Tomaro remarked about how remarkable it was that she was back at her post on the board after heart surgery.
Valenti, a New Brunswick resident for more than 60 years, chose not to touch on every aspect of her long career of public service which included stints on the city's Planning Board and Board of Education. She chose to speak for only for a few moments, issuing a heartfelt thank you.
Thomas said his mother isn't one for nostalgia or sentimentality.
"She cherishes the past, but to her it was just her sense of duty," he said. "To her, it was just natural to help where help was needed."