Aberdeen Township officials rename Midland Park in honor of Phillip Gumbs

On Oct. 16, Aberdeen Township will honor former mayor and Monmouth County's first black judge, Phillip N. Gumbs, with a park dedication. COURTESY OF ABERDEEN TOWNSHIP.
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On Oct. 16, Aberdeen Township will honor former mayor and Monmouth County's first black judge, Phillip N. Gumbs, with a park dedication. COURTESY OF ABERDEEN TOWNSHIP.

ABERDEEN – Municipal officials in Aberdeen Township have honored the late Phillip N. Gumbs by renaming Midland Park as Phillip N. Gumbs Park to pay homage to his life and career of service.

A dedication ceremony for the newly named park was held on Oct. 16 at the park on Marjorie Street in the Cliffwood section of the township.

According to an Aberdeen Township Facebook post, Gumbs was born in Perth Amboy and moved to the Cliffwood section of Aberdeen Township.

Gumbs attended Matawan High School and graduated in 1942. He served in the Army air forces during World War II until 1945. After the war, Gumbs attended John Marshall College in Jersey City before transferring to Lincoln University in Missouri.

In 1971, he obtained his doctorate of jurisprudence. Gumbs served as the mayor of Aberdeen Township from 1974-75. He also served on Board of Education and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and as a municipal prosecutor.

In 1974, Gumbs joined the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders. He was named the board’s director in 1975. He served as a freeholder until Gov. Brendan T. Byrne appointed him as a workers’ compensation judge in 1976.

Gumbs was an active member of St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Aberdeen. He died in 2011 at the age of 82.

A quote from the Facebook post by Andrew Smith, a longtime friend and Gumbs’ campaign manager, states, “He had a decency, an honesty about him. They say, ‘What you see is what you get.’ With him, what you saw was what you got.”

Lawrence Moncher, a fellow judge in Monmouth County, said Gumbs “achieved so much in his life. There were never any boundaries or obstacles to him. He was a man with guts and an instinct for knowing what was right. He knew how to handle any situation with dignity.”

Gumbs’ daughter, Robina Gumbs-Shaw, said her father’s character and leadership abilities were qualities that made him an excellent role model to his family and community.

“My father was a great leader, a wise judge, a devoted church member, an outstanding husband and father, and a role model for many people throughout Monmouth County, the state of New Jersey and for the African-American community.

“He gave his life in service to the community and we will not see a man of his stature pass this way again,” Gumbs-Shaw said.

Gumbs’ son, Kelvin Gumbs, said the renaming of Midland Park is a testament to his father’s legacy as a public servant.

“My father stressed education and hard work, no matter what your chosen profession, be the best at what you do. What made him a great role model was his belief in community, he was a true public servant.

“He demonstrated his beliefs by his actions, from his service to his country during World War II, his church and his community, he believed that in order to make change, you had to be involved.

“The dedication of this park is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. It is special because this is where he grew up. Generations of children who grew up in this section of town played here and learned to swim in the community pool that was once here.

“I remember the stories my father used to share about what this park once was; the improvements he initiated when he was mayor. It will now serve as a permanent and lasting legacy of a native son whose story and accomplishments will live for generations to come,” Gumbs said.