Barbara W. McConnell, an author of the original Clean Communities Act in 1986 and the first president of the state Clean Communities Advisory Committee, died Friday. She was 81.

Her impact on the New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC) is immeasurable, as the organization would likely not exist without her passion, focus and commitment to the cause of creating a litter-free New Jersey.

A friend and colleague to hundreds of Clean Communities supporters across the state, she was the first true leader of the organization, the advisory committee that later became the New Jersey Clean Communities Council. She then served as vice president of the NJCCC for more than a decade, retiring in January.

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“We celebrate the life and legacy of a truly great stateswoman, her accomplishments too numerous to mention,” said NJCCC Executive Director Sandy Huber, who worked closely with McConnell for a number of years.

Besides her tireless work for the NJCCC, McConnell made a major impact in Trenton. She was an assemblywoman representing Hunterdon County from 1977 to 1981, who ran for governor against Gov. Jim Florio in 1991. Later that year, the governor named her the first woman to serve as commissioner of the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development. She proudly fought for the rights of women and the underserved.

McConnell, who lived in Delaware Township, was also a major voice in the food industry. She served as president of the NJ Food Council from 1982 to 1991 and executive director of the Food Industry Association of Executives. 

“Barbara was a fierce advocate for the food industry and an effective leader for the Food Council,” said Linda Doherty, president of the NJ Food Council and vice president of the NJCCC. “On a personal level, Barbara was an inspiration and role model to me. Even as a Southern Belle from Tennessee, she had the fiery spirit of a Jersey Girl.”

At left: In Tennessee, Barbara represented President Lyndon Johnson at the memorial services for Tom Davis, the first American to be killed in Vietnam. Services were held at Livingston Academy football field. Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement also attended.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, 11 a.m., at the Amwell Church of the Brethren, Sandbrook-Headquarters Rd., Delaware Township. Calling hours are tomorrow from from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. in the Holcombe-Fisher Funeral Home, 147 Main St., Flemington.

“Barbara was my dear dear friend for 45 years; I owe my career as a lobbyist to her,” said Paul Bontempo, treasurer of NJCCC and president and co-founder of MBI/GluckShaw, who will deliver Barbara’s eulogy on Wednesday. “I have never known a more generous and giving person in my entire life and our firm would not exist if it were not for Barbara. She is already missed enormously.”

 

 

 

At right: Barbara is greeted by Governor Emilio Ramagno, Italy, honoring her on the last day of her trade mission to Italy for New Jersey.

 

McConnell was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Oct. 5, 1935, daughter of the late Carson and Mildred Williford Wright. She had resided in the Flemington area for more than 50 years. 

A graduate of Tennessee Tech, Cookville, Tenn., she was one of the first two female legislative assistants in the U.S. House of Representatives, working for Rep. Joe L. Evins of Tennessee. 

McConnell always enjoyed noting she was once named “Miss Overton County” and was a contestant in the Miss Tennessee Beauty Pageant. 

Active in community affairs, she was a former trustee of the Hunterdon Medical Center and former board member of Women's Crisis Services in Flemington. She was the proud recipient of the Girl Scouts of America Outstanding Woman Award. 

After her public service, McConnell was a legislative lobbyist for many years and was an owner of the McConnell Group, which later merged with the MBI-GluckShaw Public Affairs Group in Trenton. 

Surviving are a daughter, Terry Abigail McConnell of Bridgewater; a grandson, Morgan Roll of Manalapan, and two brothers, John Wright, M.D. of Nashville, Tenn. and Joel Wright of Lebanon, Tenn. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Hunterdon Medical Center Foundation, 2100 Wescott Drive, Flemington, N.J. 08822, or SAFE in Hunterdon, 47 East Main St., Flemington, N.J. 08822.