Pat Colavita Jr. was “a Lawrence Township treasure, a man who lit up the room when he entered it and a natural leader.”
That’s how Colavita’s friends and colleagues described the lifelong Lawrence resident.
Colavita, who was a former Lawrence mayor, a former Lawrence school board member and a former Mercer County commissioner, died Sept. 20. He was 77 years old.
Colavita began his career in public service on the Lawrence Township school board. He served from 1985 to 1993, including stints as school board president and vice president.
He also was elected to the Lawrence Township Council, serving from 1996 to 1999. He held the honorary post of mayor in 1997 and 1999, leading the township in the celebration of its 300th anniversary in 1997.
Colavita wrapped up his career in public service on the Mercer County Commission, which was formerly known as the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders. He served from 2004 to 2020, and was its chairman or president in 2007, 2011 and 2017.
In his “day job,” Colavita was a speech language pathologist for the Hamilton Township school district. He spent nearly 40 years working for the Hamilton school district.
Greg Puliti, a longtime friend who also served with Colavita on the Lawrence Township Council, described him as “the ultimate gentleman” and an easy-going person. He was also a stylish dresser who could make jeans and a button-down shirt look good, Puliti said.
“Pat lit up the room no matter where he was. If you were to meet him for the first time, he would quickly put you at ease and somehow draw out of you what you both might have in common,” Puliti said.
Colavita also had a “giving soul,” Puliti said.
“From his career as a speech language pathologist in the Hamilton Township school district to his volunteer activities, he left his loving and kind mark on every life he touched – with a passion for children, whom he often said, ‘hold our future,'” Puliti said.
Tom Wilfrid, who also served with Colavita on the Lawrence Township Council, agreed that Colavita’s personality drew people to him and made them feel that they were listened to and cared for.
Colavita’s interest in public service was genuine, beginning with the Lawrence school board and ending at the Mercer County level, Wilfrid said.
“Pat was a Lawrence treasure. I used to kid him by saying it seemed like he was related to half of Lawrence Township and best friends with the other half. He connected easily with adults and children,” Wilfrid said.
“What made Pat ‘Pat’ to me was his pride in his Italian-American heritage and the contributions of his extended family to the Lawrence Township community. It was also his optimism and lack of cynicism, regardless of the circumstances,” Wilfrid said.
Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-15) described “my dear friend Pat” as a kind person. His 35 years of public service was dedicated to making Lawrence Township and Mercer County a better place to live, Verrelli said.
“I will miss him as a friend, mentor and someone who could always make me laugh, even when we were dealing with a tough issue,” said Verrelli, who served with Colavita on the Mercer County Commission before his election to the State Assembly.
“Every once in a while, you are fortunate enough to meet someone like Pat along this journey of life,” Verrelli said.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said Colavita was “a great friend to many and one of the hardest working public servants I have had the honor to know and serve with.” He was admired by his colleagues, Hughes said.
“He will not only be remembered for his thoughtful leadership and commitment to strengthening our community, but also for his wit and grace,” Hughes said.
“Pat uplifted all people – especially children – and I am certain that the honor he most cherished was the affection and respect he earned along the way,” Hughes said.
U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-12) said she was saddened to learn of Colavita’s death. He personified public service and represented the best of New Jersey, she said.
“I treasured our friendship,” Watson-Coleman said.
In addition to serving in elected office, Colavita gave his time and leadership to more than 15 civic and community programs over the course of his life, according to his obituary.
Colavita served on the boards of the Greater Trenton YMCA and New Jersey Junior Achievement. He was the former chairman of the Hamilton Columbus Day parade, and he was inducted into the Italian-American Hall of Fame in 2015, according to his obituary.
He received the 2007 Civilian Commendation medal from former Gov. Jon Corzine and the New Jersey National Guard. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award earlier this year by CONTACT of Mercer County, which is a nonprofit organization that helps people in crisis, his obituary stated.
A funeral for Colavita was held Sept. 26 at St. Ann’s Church in Lawrence Township.