NEWARK, NJ — Essex County hosted its 13th annual Irish Heritage Celebration on Wednesday, March 8. During the afternoon ceremony, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. recognized Mary K. Murphy, executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, as the 2017 Essex County Irishwoman of the Year and Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin as the 2017 Essex County Irishman of the Year. In addition, a special recognition award was posthumously presented to the late Mary O’Hara Roth, a 27-year Essex County employee and community advocate. The Irish heritage event recognizes the impact Irish men and women have had on the cultural, civic, political, law enforcement and economic history of the county.
“As I travel throughout New Jersey, I constantly tell people that Essex County’s strength is our diversity. Highlighting the contributions that each ethnicity has made to our culture, economy and history helps create a better understanding of each other and develops a sense of community,” DiVincenzo said in a press release. “Mary Murphy, Chris Durkin and Mary Roth have helped shape the quality of life in New Jersey through their government and civic work.”
As the executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Murphy oversees the annual investment of more than $2.5 billion in transportation improvement projects in the 13-county northern New Jersey area impacting more than 6.5 million people.
“I am happy to be here today. This is a special moment that allows me to pause and remember my father, our Irish heritage and how important family is to us,” Murphy said, according to the release. “Thank you for this honor.”
Durkin was re-elected to the office of Essex County clerk for a third term in November 2015. He was previously a sheriff’s officer and then detective. In 2002, he was elected second Vice Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Party under U.S. Congressman Donald Payne Sr. Durkin currently serves on the Essex County Democratic County Committee. He has been appointed to the board of directors for the Saint Patrick’s Guard of Honor and was an executive board member to the American Red Cross from 2006 to 2012. Born in Orange and raised in Maplewood, Durkin currently lives in West Caldwell with his wife and three children.
“I want to thank the county executive for this award and my wife, my three children, my mother and my father who is smiling down on us now for their support,” Durkin said, according to the release. “I may never be half the great people my parents were, but it is because of my mom and dad that I am able to be the best I can be every day.”
O’Hara Roth was raised by her parents, who both immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and settled in West Orange to raise their nine children. She lived in West Orange her entire adult life with husband, Ed, and their five daughters. O’Hara Roth was involved with CYO activities in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in West Orange for many years where she remained a daily communicant throughout her life. In addition, she was a member of the Eagle Rock Civic Association, and vice chairwoman of the West Orange Democratic Committee and Frank O’Hara Association. Her greatest pleasure each year was marching in the annual West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade as part of the O’Hara Association with family and celebrating the parade founded by her father, Frank O’Hara, over 65 years ago.
“On behalf of my sisters, I want to thank county Executive DiVincenzo for recognizing our mother today. She loved working for Essex County, she loved her job and the friendships she made and even at 80 years old, did not want to retire. We thank you all for the love and kindness you showed her,” Sheila Parisi, O’Hara Roth’s daughter, said at the event. “We all thought we were lucky because she was our mother, but she was lucky too. She touched the lives of a lot of people in a meaningful way and so much of that kindness has been reciprocated and shown to us.”
The entertainment was provided by Jack McGarry of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as Paul Byrne and Amy Bashara. The invocation was presented by Father Ed Leahy, headmaster at St. Benedict’s Prep.