Remembering Tom McBride (1938–2022)

West Orange resident and Lackawanna Coalition member Thomas G. McBride left usonJanuary28,attheageof83. He was a Coalition member for many years, but he was best-known locally for his long and outstanding service to Essex County residents, especially its transit riders, as longtime chair of the Essex County Transportation Advisory Board (ECTAB).

The TAB was founded in 1980 by the County Freeholder Board, now known as the Board of County Commissioners. Tom was a charter member and, as it turned out, the last-surviving original member. When I joined the Board in 1985, it was still new (one year younger than the Lackawanna Coalition, actually) and was deciding which aspects of transportation policy to emphasize within the county. Although the TAB seldom interacted with elected officials, its primary point of contact with county government was (and still is) the Essex County Planning Division.

As a person who cared about transit in the county, Tom was active on the board’s Transit Committee, along with Coalition Vice-Chair Bob Hingel and me. We always reported on Coalition activities as they pertained to Essex County, on connectivity between the Morris & Essex and Montclair rail lines and local buses, and on policy initiatives that would help county residents get around better. Tom always supported these initiatives.

Tom remembered the old streetcar lines in the county, including ones that went through West Orange. They were later changed to trolleybuses and then to ordinary buses, but Tom always pushed for better transit, including expansion of light rail in the county. About 30 years ago, the Board held a hearing in Nutley to give local residents an opportunity to air their views about a proposal to extend the Newark City Subway (now Newark Light Rail) to the area—a proposal that, sadly, was never implemented. One man expressed the relatively standard argument of suburbanites that transit would bring crime to the town. Tom replied, “I see, sir. You are concerned that somebody from Newark will come to your town and steal your TV set and then wait at the light-rail stop carrying your hot TV, while making a good target for the police to come and arrest him.”

I got my start as an advocate at the TAB, long before I came on board at the Coalition in 1998. My predecessor, Jim Laurie, had been chair of both organizations and, when he died in 1998, I became TAB chair, a position that I held until the end of 2003. Tom succeeded me and held the post until he essentially faded away in 2018. It may not have comported with the rules for him to say on for so long, but he was the right person for the position. Every year, I would move that the TAB waive the rules and allow Tom to stay on. Bob or somebody else would second my motion, and we would all vote to allow Tom to remain chairperson for another year.

Tom knew a lot about transit, and he cared about it, too. The transit-riding residents of Essex County are better off today because of his service than they would have been without it.

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