NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The mood at the Middlesex County Freeholders meeting grew emotional Thursday night, as administrators and elected officials said goodbye to Carol Bellante, the board’s departing deputy director.

Bellante submitted her letter of resignation to the county clerk last Friday. After serving as a freeholder since 2009, she will officially step down tomorrow.

No one mentioned Bellante’s pending departure until just before the board sought a motion to adjourn. At that time, Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios delivered a heartfelt speech in which he described Bellante as a “dear friend” and praised her for her service.

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“Carol brought to this board such a love of working with everyone,” Rios said. “This wasn’t Carol’s show while she was here.”

Bellante worked for the county for 40 years and also headed the largest union that represents county employees, Rios noted.

During her tenure as a freeholder, she worked to preserve “thousands of precious open space acres,” he said.

It was her personality, however, that Rios mentioned most often.

“I will miss her wit, her humor, her compassion and her true caring for everyone,” he said.

Bellante, smiling and seemingly on the verge of tears, thanked her colleagues, county workers and the public. She also touted Middlesex as the “greatest county in the land.”

She said she’s stepping down to retire and spend more time with her family.

“It’s been a long time, working all these years, and I’m tired,” Bellante said. “I’ll miss you guys an awful lot.”

After Bellante finished speaking, those in attendance saw her off with a standing ovation that lasted roughly 30 seconds. Various county administrators and residents then lined up to shake her hand and wish her well.

Prior to becoming a freeholder, Bellante served on South Brunswick’s municipal council.

Bellante’s term runs through the end of 2017. County Democrats are expected to float the names of three possible successors, and the chosen one will likely run for another three-year term in the upcoming election.

A county insider has said Freeholder Charles Tomaro is likely to take over as the board’s deputy director.

Bellante’s resignation is the second to hit the county board since October, when former Freeholder H. James Polos left his seat for a government job. Shanti Narra took over the remainder of his term.