Chief Michael J. Cleary, Sr. 66, of South Plainfield, died suddenly on July 14, 2018.
Born and raised in Irvington to the late Joseph and Marion Cleary (nee Weisinger), he attended Essex Catholic Boys High School graduating in 1969.
He went on to attend Newark State College, now Kean University, where he left a legacy that will resonate for generations to come. He was a pioneer of Cougar athletics, Mr. Cleary was a major part of the largest athletics expansion in Kean history. He was a member of the school's first-ever lacrosse team in the spring of 1970, and was a charter member of the school's football program.
A four-year letter winner in lacrosse, Cleary was a standout defenseman from 1970 through 1973, becoming the first Kean player to be named as a first-team All-Knickerbocker Conference honoree. Cleary was also a three-year starter at tackle for the football team from 1970 through 1972, helping to lead the fledgling squad to a solid 4-2 record in its initial campaign in 1970. Besides lacrosse and football, Cleary played basketball for the 1969-1970 then Squires. For his accomplishments his senior year, Cleary was presented with the D'Angola Award, the highest honor presented by the department of athletics and Kean. He was also the editor of the student newspaper and the yearbook. Additionally, he became an active member of Sigma Beta Tau fraternity, participating in many service activities. It was also at Newark State that he met his beloved wife, Patricia O’Brien. Mr. Cleary graduated in 1973 Bachelor of Arts degree in history. He also played semi-pro football with the Jersey Oaks.
Michael and Patricia married in 1975 and settled to South Plainfield in 1980, where they raised their two boys, Michael, Jr. and Matthew.
Mr. Cleary went on to join the East Orange Police Department in 1974 where he became Deputy Chief in 1993. He was promoted to Chief in 2004 a position he dedicated with a passion that would change the department. Michael was affectionately known as Chief to everyone who knew him throughout his career and carried with him throughout his retirement. Chief Cleary was devoted to protecting and serving the community. His leadership and active involvement led to the reduction by 56% of overall crime in the city. The Chief led by example within the department, mentoring officers and aiding in their success He received many accolades during his police tenure including from the New Jersey Assembly, State Senate, New Jersey State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, PBA, FOP, Essex County Chiefs of Police, Community Groups and East Orange City Government. Chief Cleary retired in 2008 and maintained a lifelong connection to the department and the city he loved.
Mr. Cleary remained very active in the Kean athletic department. He served as an assistant lacrosse coach since 1978 and was an assistant coach on the Kean teams under the legendary Hawley Waterman that participated in the World Games in Japan 1992 and Australia 1993. Cleary was the offensive line coach for the Kean football team from 1981 to 1986. Mr. Cleary also coached football for St. Joseph’s High School and Immaculata High School .He served as a member of the Hall Of Fame selection committee after his induction into the Kean University Hall of Fame in 1985.
Michael recently earned several honors for his time, commitment and mentorship. Kean University named him a "Distinguished Alumni" in 2016 and most recently he was selected the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) / Hudl Division III Assistant Coach of the Year. In addition, this past winter he was honored by the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a member of the 21st induction class. His battle cry of "yeah baby" will resonate with all who knew him.
Chief Cleary was an avid New York Giants football fan and season ticket holder. He enjoyed the time spent with his sons, family, and friends tailgating in section 305.
Michael was a devoted family man; he cherished the quality time spent in their family home in LBI creating memories with his entire family and sharing memories that will last a lifetime.
No matter where the Chief went, he met someone he knew. Traveling the entire east coast, whether for vacation or to scout football and lacrosse, he met someone in every state that recognized him, and came up to say hello.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Marion Cleary, his dear brother Patrick Cleary and his nephew Christopher Cleary.
Surviving are his beloved wife of 43 years, Patricia “Trish” Cleary nee O’Brien, who was his biggest fan, his loving sons, Michael J. Cleary, Jr. and wife Jessica and Matthew J. Cleary and wife Sarah, his three cherished grandchildren, Liam, Chloé, and Cole, his dear siblings Joseph Cleary, Jr. and wife Audrey, Dennis Cleary and wife Mary, and Maryanne Shymon and husband Steve, his in-laws Barbara Garinello and husband Larry and John David O’Brien, Joan and Jeff George, as well as his extended family, and his High School, Collegiate and Professional communities.
Family and friends are welcome to gather for visitation on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 from 5:00 to 8:00PM and on Thursday, July 19, 2018 from 2:00pm to 8:00pm at the McCriskin-Gustafson Home for Funerals, 2425 Plainfield Avenue, South Plainfield.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:00am on Friday, July 20, 2018 at Immaculate Conception R.C. Church, 35 Mountain Avenue, Somerville.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Michael's memory to Kean University-Lacross, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083 Attn: Shelly Sheiner